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Breaking the Chain: Tobacco versus CVS

Posted: September 21, 2014, 3:55 p.m.
by Brittany Downey.

On Sept. 3, CVS Caremark Corporation announced the change of its corporate name to CVS Health. Its mission is “to reflect its broader health care commitment and its expertise in driving the innovations needed to shape the future of health.” The headline, however, sprung from CVS’s decision to remove tobacco products from the shelves of its retail locations nearly a month before its previously announced date of Oct. 1.

As if the pull wasn’t enough to get the word out, CVS Health also initiated a new, personalized campaign to help current smokers in the United States end their tobacco addiction. Nearly two weeks later tobacco industry veterans like Sean Flinn, a marketing professional with experience in the smokeless tobacco industry, are weighing in on the changes being made. The question they’re answering — “How is this all going to affect tobacco, if at all?”

“I’m not familiar with CVS’s numbers in relation to tobacco sales as a total category, what their recent sales trends look like or what pulling tobacco from their shelves actually costs them, and I don’t know what products they are intending to fill the empty space with,” Flinn said. “If CVS is concerned about America’s health, then I’m guessing that they will be removing all snack foods, candy and products with high fat content next, to take a stand against the obesity issues facing our country.”

CVS Health’s focus on rebranding comes in the form of commercials, a website revamp and other in-store advertisements such as window stickers that read “Let’s Quit Together.” Its Sept. 3 press release explained all of these facts and more. Quotes from executives included President and CEO Larry J. Merlo who said, “As a pharmacy innovation company at the forefront of a changing health care landscape, we are delivering breakthrough products and services, from advising on prescriptions to helping manage chronic and specialty conditions.”

Tobacco document researcher Anne Landman who has studied thousands of documents about tobacco companies’ corporate strategies and the manufacturing and marketing of cigarettes explains why tobacco consumers will continue to buy even when retailers like CVS decide to drop the products.

“The first thing that makes tobacco consumers different from other consumers is that they aren’t aware that they are addicted,” Landman said. “They’re also very in the dark about how engineered their products are for addiction. They also are unaware of how the cigarette companies regard them. Through my research I’ve found that the [tobacco] industry doesn’t have a high opinion of their consumers. They think they are lower class, uneducated and unintelligent.”

Landman noted that CVS is also positioning itself to benefit from the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. The end game seems to be that smokers will find the retailers that carry tobacco products, and will cast CVS in that group of stores they don’t visit.

“It is up to retailers to decide if they are going to sell tobacco products,” Brian May, spokesperson for Altria Group, said. “We’ve appreciated working with CVS over the years, and we respect its decision – for our part, we will continue to focus on the nearly 250,000 retail stores with whom we work to sell tobacco products to adult consumers in a responsible way.”

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