Feb 11 2014

Room for Debate: CVS to stop selling cigarettes

The New York Times Room for Debate blog asked me to comment on What other unhealthy products should CVS stop selling?

Here’s my response: Next, Cut the Soda and Junk Food.

Good for CVS! Cigarettes are in a class by themselves. The evidence that links cigarette smoking to lung cancer and other serious health problems is overwhelming, unambiguous and incontrovertible. So is the evidence that the mere presence of cigarettes is sufficient to create demand, especially among young people.

When the anti-cigarette smoking movement began, the issues were simple: stop people from starting to smoke and get people who smoked to stop — by making it difficult, uncomfortable and expensive for smokers to continue their habit. The ultimate goal? Put cigarette companies out of business. This, of course, has been politically impossible, not least because cigarette companies pay such high taxes.

If CVS wants to promote health, it could increase sales of healthy snacks, and stop selling sugary foods and drinks.

Although there are many parallels in company marketing practices, food is not tobacco. For all tobacco products, the response is simple: stop. Food is more complicated. We must eat to survive. A great number of foods meet nutritional needs. The evidence that links a particular food product to health is often uncertain. This is because each food is only one component of a diet that contains many foods in a lifestyle that might involve other factors that affect health: activity, alcohol, drugs, stress and let’s not forget genetics.

With that said, if CVS really wants to promote health, it could consider increasing its sales of fruits, vegetables and healthy snacks, and stop selling sodas, ice cream, chips and other junk foods. Those foods may not have the same bad effect on health as tobacco, but eating too much of them on a regular basis is associated with weight gain, obesity and the conditions for which obesity is a risk factor, like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. If CVS wants to counter obesity, dropping soft drinks is a good place to start. They have scads of sugars, and kids who drink them regularly take in more calories, are fatter and have worse diets than kids who do not.

  • http://nedhamson.wordpress.com/ Ned Hamson

    Grin – now, my former minister would say now you are meddling, not preaching. I agree with you but CVS and all the others now make much of their profit from everything but drugs – so hardly possible but hope that they take your advice.

  • excentric

    Why is it that whenever someone or some company tries to do something positive, instead of getting deserved kudos, they are criticized for not doing something else instead, or something more, or something the criticizer thinks is more important? Why bother? you can’t win no matter what you do. I say, congrats for making a start CVS.

  • excentric

    Oh, and another thing. Food affects the eater. Tobacco smoke affects everyone around it. Apples and oranges kind of thing?

  • Nancy K.

    CVS should stop selling grossly overpriced generic drugs. In one example CVS was discovered, along with Rite Aid and Walgreens to be pricing a generic drug prescription at over $400 when it is available from other less ubiquitous outlets for as little as $12. Yes, that’s twelve dollars versus four hundred. Any public health advocate worth her arugula would take offense at the unspeakable ripoff CVS and other big chain stores are perpetrating on the public, holding our health hostage for ransom, essentially.

  • JW Ogden

    I am sorry, i do not see any need for CVS to stop selling sodas, ice cream, chips and other so call “junk foods”.

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  • TR

    CVS also doesn’t have a need to not also sell guns and alcohol. So why not? Surely it would make the ATF’s job of regulating the market much easier if all the products they regulate, guns alcohol and tobacco, were being sold under the same roof.

  • TR

    I don’t see that Marion criticized them at all but rather is encouraging CVS to “follow through on that initiative.” But you see that as criticism and so feel some need to critcize in return.

  • shi va

    Nicotine is the only substance which attracts and makes the individual to smoke. Eventhough people knew that they need to face severe consequences if they get addicted to cigarette even then they will not quit smoking. It is better to stop selling the cigarettes as it damages the oral health. If you wish to quit smoking, don’t know how to control yourself then do visit any dental care. Any doctor will help you to get rid of this.