Many stores keep things behind the counter that have a lot of value and that some customers might grab without bothering to pay.
Cigarettes fall in that category. They’re stacked in colorful packs and cartons, within reach so store clerks and gas station attendants can get to them quickly.
It was no different at the CVS Caremark, now CVS Health, store at Independence and Prospect avenues. At the Northeast area store on my way home from work, cigarette sales used to bring in a lot of traffic. That has changed. CVS — a month ahead of schedule — stopped selling tobacco products at this and its 7,700 other pharmacies and stores nationwide.
Larry J. Merlo, president and chief executive of CVS Health, said in a prepared release earlier this year: “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
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That makes sense. However, the company notes that it stands to lose $2 billion in revenue annually because of the decision.
That’s not small change. Consider that people wanting tobacco products usually pick up medicine, candy bars, booze or other things while in drugstores.
In the Northeast area, a Walgreens drugstore and other retailers sit between the CVS on Prospect and Independence avenues and the one at 5901 Independence Ave. A CVS clerk on Monday said tobacco product sales already are going elsewhere. Yet CVS has made the right decision.
Google Walgreens, and its slogan “at the corner of happy and healthy” comes up. That would mean more if Walgreens joined CVS to end tobacco product sales.
Google CVS, and the website says, “Let’s quit together.... Your health is our #OneGoodReason to be tobacco free.” Statements like those are billboarded behind CVS counters where cigarettes once were. Quitting makes sense.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases (including emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic airway obstruction) and diabetes. More than 16 million Americans suffer from a disease caused by smoking. Cigarette smoking results in more than 480,000 deaths annually in the United States, including about 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure.
President Barack Obama, who quit smoking, applauded CVS’ move. Obama in a prepared statement said CVS’ action to stop selling tobacco products and help others kick the habit “sets a powerful example.” Obama said CVS advances his administration’s work to “reduce tobacco-related deaths” as well as bring down health care costs, “saving lives and protecting untold numbers of families from pain and heartbreak for years to come.” He praised CVS for the “choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of our country.”
CVS encourages smokers who want to quit to talk to its pharmacists. They offer a smoking cessation assessment. “Studies show that smokers assisted by a health care provider have a greater chance of quitting,” CVS’ website says.
In 1965 about 42 percent of Americans were smokers. That has dropped to 18 percent today. It is higher in Missouri, where 25 percent of state residents smoke, according to 2011 data. Missouri ranked 43rd among states. Kentucky held the bottom spot, where 29 percent of the people in that state smoke.
But Missouri has the distinction of having the nation’s lowest cigarette tax. Maybe the Missouri legislature will raise the tax from an embarrassing 17 cents a pack to $2 a pack to follow CVS’ great action.
The overall U.S. average state tax on cigarettes is $1.54 a pack. It should be 20 times that high to keep young people from ever starting to smoke and to encourage those who have smoked for years to quit.