Not for Sale

Credit: Tomasz Sienicki / wikimedia commons

Thank You For Not Selling: Historian Nancy Koehn On CVS' Tobacco Ban

February 11, 2014

Last week CVS Caremark, one of the largest retailers and pharmacies in the nation, announced that it would stop selling all cigarette and tobacco products by October, 2014.  The rationale behind this  has to do with some serious cognitive dissonance. As CVS CEO Larry Melo put it in a recent press release, "Tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered."  Of course that statement immediately got the attention of numerous health enthusiasts  and experts who are saying why stop at tobacco? Why not ban candy and soda too?

Tobacco however,  unlike candy and soda, has been public health enemy number one for a half-century. In  1964 the surgeon general released a landmark report on smoking and health, which linked smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. Given that the anti-smoking movement has been in full swing for decades, CVS could be making a really smart move by tapping into it. CVS could also be seen as an industry leader if  other major retailers such as Walgreens and Walmart kick the habit too.

We're a long way from seeing what affect this ban will have on access to tobacco and smoking rates. However, if it turns out that this ban made a difference, could soda and candy be next? If so, what are the pros and cons of  the private sector influencing  public health policies? 

Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn joined Jim and Margery on BPR for her analysis of CVS' bold business maneuver. In short, she sees this as a supremely wise and forward thinking move. Not only is CVS positioning itself as a health and wellness center, it's also responding to the Affordable Care Act and society's need for efficient, affordable, and streamlined healthcare. Of course, you need to hear this in Koehn's own words. Who knew someone could make CVS (AKA Consumer Value Service) such good radio?


WGBH News is supported by:
Back to top