While CVS Caremark is to be applauded for its decision to stop selling cigarettes in its pharmacies, it is not cynical to assume that if cigarette sales were hugely profitable the corporation would not be taking this admirable step. Tobacco sales have been in decline at CVS as an increasing number of communities ban pharmacies from selling cigarettes, and Berkshire County has played a part.
Pittsfield’s Board of Health unanimously approved a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies in June of 2012, which led to the removal of cigarettes from six retail chains in the city. A customer of a CVS pharmacy in Pittsfield will now see products designed to assist smokers in kicking the habit rather than cigarette packages on display. In the spring of 2012, Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge became the first Berkshire County communities to enact a pharmacy ban on the sale of cigarettes.
Tobacco sales now account for less than two percent of CVS’ revenue, but the action by the Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based company has real and symbolic value. The action by the second largest drug store chain in the nation will create pressure on Walgreen (the largest) and Rite-Aid (the third largest) to do the same. CVS also plans to increase its efforts to combat smoking in the months leading up to October 1, when all tobacco products will have been removed from its stores. Its significant that this is not a "nanny state" attempt to reduce cigarette sales but one undertaken by a profit-driven corporation.
Pharmacies, which are in the business of making people healthy, should never have been in the business of selling a product that makes people unhealthy in the first place. That strange dichotomy is coming to an end at CVS, and its competitors may decide that the good publicity the decision will generate is worth more than the increasingly modest profits provided from the sale of cigarettes.
Although smoking is in decline in the United States, it still claims roughly 400,000 deaths a year according to the Food and Drug Administration, and the amount of suffering it causes is unquantifiable. Congratulations to CVS for taking up the anti-smoking cause. Congratulations also to the communities in the Berkshires, Massachusetts and the United States, and their health officials, whose actions led to this decision by CVS.