OPINION: Is a ban on tobacco a good thing?


In the fall of 2014, pharmacy chain previously called CVS Caremark stopped selling tobacco products, citing reasons that the sale of tobacco ran against it’s image as a health care provider. The company re-branded itself corporately as CVS Health and launched a smoking-cessation campaign.

It’s no secret that tobacco causes a legion of health issues for consumers. According to a Feb. 11, 2015 New York Times article “Smoking’s Toll on Health Is Even Worse Than Previously Thought, a Study Finds,” a new study adds at least five diseases and 60,000 deaths a year to the toll taken by tobacco in the U.S. Previously, smoking was thought to have caused nearly half a million deaths a year in the U.S. Furthermore, on average, smokers die more than a decade before non-smokers.

A massive company taking steps to essentially protect its customers and take a firm stance against a harmful substance, even at the cost of sales, is commendable. Pharmacy chains should be looking at CVS and considering making changes to their own policies. These companies are supposed to be selling stuff that heals, rather than kills.

There is certainly an argument to be made for the loss of profit that a ban on tobacco sales would inevitably bring about. It might not be as drastic, though, as you might think.

While there was an obvious decline in front-of-store sales, CVS actually saw almost a 10 percent increase in revenue after barring tobacco sales, due to strong performance on the pharmaceutical side of things, according a Nov. 4, 2012 Time Magazine article titled, “CVS Revenues Up After Cigarette Sales Ban.”

CVS was lauded for it’s decision by health care officials and advocates. I would even go as far to argue that the public relations benefits of barring tobacco sales would probably outweigh the loss of profit.

Despite the feel-good nature of it all, I cannot help but be a bit conflicted. I feel that CVS made the right choice. The consumer in me, though, is not so sure. People deserve the right to shop where they choose, and give their money to companies that they deem worthy.

Having said this, cigarettes are not hard to find. If one company stops selling them, is it really that big of a deal? If other pharmacies, like Walgreens, joined CVS in a tobacco sales ban, would it be difficult to obtain tobacco? I honestly don’t think it would.

A blanket ban on tobacco products would be ludicrous, though. While I think pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens should consider tobacco sales bans, it is not necessary for retailers like Wal-Mart or convenience stores. I would even oppose the idea of tobacco bans for these retailers. People that want to smoke should still have that right and option available to them.

I also have questions regarding electronic cigarettes. CVS does not currently sell e-cigs or the “e-juice” that fills them. These products contain no tobacco, though they can contain variable amounts of nicotine, depending on the consumers wants or needs.

Electronic cigarettes and similar products are generally billed as a healthy alternative to smoking, or a way to quit smoking tobacco without abandoning the habit altogether. While there is a lack of information on the long-term effects of these products on health, I do believe they are not as immediately harmful as the multitude of tobacco products on the market, based on what I know.

If these products are not as harmful as a normal tobacco product, would it be okay for CVS to sell them? It could be argued that promoting these products is promoting a healthier lifestyle for smokers. In fact, many e-cig manufacturers applauded CVS’s decision to halt tobacco sales, citing the dangers and death toll of tobacco, and promoting e-cigs as the healthy alternative. The cynic in me knows this is a clever public relations tactic, but the optimist in me hopes that these companies really do care for smokers’ health.

Personally, I think it would be beneficial for the companies that still sell tobacco to guide consumers towards products like e-cigs. If they truly are a healthy alternative, smokers should be considering them as a way to improve their lifestyle without giving up what they enjoy.

Ultimately, I think CVS was right to stop selling tobacco products. As a company that sells medicine, it’s odd that they would also be selling something that kills so many people. I also think other pharmaceutical companies, like Walgreens, should follow suit. All other retailers should still offer tobacco, but promote consumers to consider healthier options.

Smoking kills, but with the right steps, the companies can lower the deathtoll, and promote a better lifestyle for future generations.