Removing tobacco gains CVS excellent PR

Published 9:07 am Friday, September 5, 2014

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“I wish we had a CVS Health nearby,” I told Sera when I heard the news about their organization going tobacco free.

Any organization committed to health care should recognize the jarring clash between a store’s entryway lined with tobacco products and the prescriptions located in the back corner. I must commend the organization for taking a stand on this issue.

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I’ve never understood the appeal of smoking. It kills you, makes you smell bad, turns your teeth yellow and costs a lot of money. I can’t imagine many people purchasing a product with those descriptors, but the Centers for Disease Control estimates 42.1 million people in America partake in the bad habit. That’s 18 percent of all adults in this country. I don’t get it.

According to data found from the American Cancer Society, for every pack of cigarettes a person buys, they’ll pay an additional $35 for health-related costs down the line. In addition to that cost, smoking costs impact our society as well. Ten years ago smoking cost the United States $96 billion in direct health care expenditures. No wonder why CVS isn’t letting tobacco products sit on its shelves.

In addition to CVS removing the cancer sticks from their shelves, they’re launching an in-store campaign to help others quit, too. In many ways, it had to be hard for a business as large as CVS to cut out a product that sells itself. The addictive nature of tobacco likely provided the business with many repeat customers, and CVS may see a hit in revenue by removing a staple product like cigarettes. It’s encouraging to see a business willing to put health above profit. As I was on CVS’s website, I noticed its promotion of medication helping individuals quit. Just days ago the company was selling both the addictive problem and medicating solutions, creating a perfect situation for profit. I’m sure their finance team has developed a “quit plan” just like many smokers do to break the bad habit.

As CVS rolls out their “robust smoking cessation program” for those wishing to follow suit and quit, I hope they’re able to measure their success to showcase why what they’re doing is worth it. Breathing can become easier, cancer diagnoses can decrease, and lives can be saved because one company took a stand.

What if other companies did the same? Certainly there is a market for tobacco products, and I would never expect the majority of companies to suddenly decide to stop carrying a product that kills their consumer.

Imagine if they did, though. I’ve read countless stories on organizations recognizing the need to appeal to a younger generation. The solution is almost always corporate responsibility, and finally a company like CVS has put a stake in the ground.

Accompanying their product change and quitting initiative, CVS launched a social media campaign using #OneGoodReason. It’s intended to encourage people to share one good reason why they should live tobacco free. Apparently seven in 10 smokers identify themselves as wanting to quit, and a quick glance at the campaign’s hashtag on Twitter will give plenty of encouraging words for those needing motivation. It’s clear those wanting to quit are not alone, and neither is CVS.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many CVS stores around southern Minnesota. While it may not make sense to drive an incredibly long distance to get your next prescription, I encourage you to consider where you do get your medicine from, and see if they’re selling tobacco products as well. By speaking up, you can be the change that makes your community healthier.


Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.