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CVS is re-branding to become a healthier version of itself by taking cigarettes off its shelves. But it’s up in the air whether or not the company’s bold move will help smokers break the habit.
This past February, CVS/Caremark announced they would stop selling all tobacco products in their stores starting Oct. 1. The company made good on their promise, stopping the sale of cigarettes a whole month early on Sept. 3.
Along with ceasing tobacco sales, the company re-branded themselves as CVS Health, and replaced their walls of cigarettes with products to help smokers quit their habit.
Will this bold move by the popular retail drugstore chain truly help kick the tobacco dependency of Americans once and for all?
Mike Syrotiak, a senior who does not smoke, feels CVS Pharmacy’s decision will not make much of an impact.
“It’s a good idea, but I don’t think it’s going to work,” he said. “I think people will go to Walgreens or Rite-Aid instead. If you’re a smoker, you’re still going to smoke, not just because CVS told you not to.”
Even though this is a prominent belief, CVS Health is committed to their image overhaul, despite the estimate of a $2 billion decrease in sales due to their major decision, according to Forbes.
Along with its anti-smoking initiative, CVS operates 900 “Minute Clinics” in the U.S., partnering with more than 40 health care systems, including local hospitals, to provide basic services for customers. This decision to end tobacco sales makes them more appealing to other potential partners and sets them apart from other retail drugstores, according to The New York Times.
Tom Charland, the chief executive of healthcare research and consulting firm Merchant Medicine, said in a statement,
“When you stop selling cigarettes as a retailer, it sends a very big signal to the rest of the healthcare community that you are in the healthcare business,” said Charland. “I do think that it’s going to open up many possibilities in all of the partnerships that they’re trying to create across the country.”
CVS Health rival Walgreens says they are not going to stop selling tobacco products anytime soon, according to Forbes.
In their official corporate statement in September, Walgreens said that there are 250,000 retail locations that sell cigarettes, with retail pharmacies accounting for only four percent of sales in the tobacco market.
The statement continues, stating, “As a result — as many health experts and even a recent doctor survey have noted — a retail pharmacy ban on tobacco sales would have little to no significant impact on actually reducing the use of tobacco.”
Sarah Delfino, a freshman and a smoker, thinks the opposite will happen; the more retail pharmacies who stop tobacco sales, the more of an impact it will have on people.
“I think that more companies need to match CVS’ stance on smoking for it to be effective,” she said. “I think if companies band together, they will be able to make a significant difference.”
Even after Walgreens claimed retail pharmacies have no impact on smoking, CVS has reported a decrease in tobacco consumption since their ban on the products. According to a CVS study for the journal Health Affairs, bans in San Francisco and Boston CVS Pharmacies led to 13 percent fewer purchases, and some smokers didn’t just switch locations to buy cigarettes, but stopped buying them altogether.
CVS’ ban has already prompted Delfino to at least consider her options of quitting.
“Seeing [smoking cessation aids] on the shelves has definitely forced me to re-evaluate my addiction,” she said, but is quick to add, “I don’t know if I would use them. I think it’s good, though to advertise the different methods of quitting.”
However, Syrotiak believes it will take much more for people to quit.
“Unless cigarettes are completely off the market, it doesn’t matter what these places do.”