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CVS takes tobacco from shelves in worthy move

CVS takes tobacco off shelves in worthy move (credit: Michelle  Wan /Art Editor) CVS takes tobacco off shelves in worthy move (credit: Michelle Wan /Art Editor)
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Last Wednesday, CVS Caremark — America’s most profitable chain drugstore — announced its intention to stop selling tobacco products. The transition, nearly unprecedented in major retail history, will be completed by October.

According to company executives, the decision arose from a desire to bring the company’s future plans in line with its current actions. CVS leads the trend of drugstores becoming increasingly affiliated with the American healthcare system. Of course, drugstores offering prescriptions and flu shots is nothing new, but CVS and others are becoming more and more like mini-clinics. Currently, the company employs over 26,000 nurse practitioners and pharmacists who are responsible for everything from consultation and diagnosis to basic care, according to The New York Times.

CVS plans to continue moving in this direction, and so — in its eyes — cutting out tobacco may have been the only reasonable decision. Miraculously, a company in the retail industry recognized hypocrisy when it was staring it in the face and determined it wanted no part of it. For a company dedicated to serving people’s health, continuing to sell a product that remains the single most prominent preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States would have been hypocrisy at its most heinous.

It’s hard to comprehend anyone being opposed to such a sensible, positive decision — even to smokers, it is likely to be only a minor inconvenience — but there are always the critics.

Fox News has loudly expressed concerns about the legality of a private business choosing to deny the public the cigarettes that are their right, according to Media Matters for America. If you think this stance contradicts Fox News’s usual support of ethos in the free market, you’d be right.

In fact, the only way to make sense of the channel’s reaction is to consider President Obama’s outspoken approval of the CVS initiative. Fox News evidently views CVS banning tobacco as yet another example of Obamacare shoving its greedy fingers into everything Americans hold dear. Then again, Fox News would surely find an objection to strawberry ice cream if they found out Obama had a particular liking for it.

So CVS made the right call — despite the fact that it estimates the move will cost them $2 billion in tobacco-related sales. No one reasonably expects to see a huge drop in smoking rates as a result of the change. There will always be another store at which to fuel smokers’ addictions. However, CVS hopes that others will follow its example and that the trend they launched will eventually culminate in noticeable change.

In the meantime, CVS plans to initiate a program this spring designed to get smokers to quit. For reasons both of making up for lost revenue and cementing its anti-tobacco reputation, CVS plans to help half a million smokers recover.

It would be foolish to depict CVS as a hero, selflessly protecting America’s health. Despite their healthcare leanings, CVS is still a retail company, primarily on the lookout for its own best interest.

In this light, removing tobacco from shelves makes perfect practical sense, as doing so lines up with its healthcare image.

But is that so bad? Regardless of their interests or their intentions, CVS is doing a good thing for this country and its people, and inspiring others to take its example. CVS does not necessarily deserve praise, but its initiative does. A little selfishness can go a long way for a positive outcome.