CVS Pulls The Plug

Earlier this year, CVS announced it would stop selling cigarettes by October.

They beat their self-imposed deadline by a month. As of today, you can’t buy cigarettes at any of their 7,700 stores nationwide. Including ours.

The nation’s largest drugstore chain has stopped selling them (and other tobacco products), in part because its 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners are tired of treating problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease — all linked to smoking.

CVS will lose about $2 billion in sales — less than 1% of its $123 billion total last year.

Years ago, cigarette sales no doubt accounted for much more. I remember those days well.

Cigarettes 1There were cigarette machines in nearly every store. Westport Pizzeria had one, as a longtime customer noted on Facebook. (When she was underage and tried to buy a pack, owner Mel Mioli warned her of the dangers of smoking.)

Across the street, a popular store selling food and featuring pinball games was called “Bill’s Smoke Shop.”

When I was in 8th grade, some Long Lots Junior High friends and I were “hired” to help construct the carnival that set up every May in the vacant lot that is now the Barnes & Noble shopping center. Our pay? Cigarettes.

(The wisdom of using 14-year-olds to build Ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls is the subject of another story.)

cigarettes 2And for well over a decade at Staples, there was a designated “smoking area.” The blacktop just outside the cafeteria — next to a basketball hoop, and where principal George Cohan once grilled hamburgers — was called (by some) “Cancer Plaza.” Many other students called it “home.”

Things are different now. According to a 2011 survey, 11% of Staples juniors — and just 3% of sophomores — said they smoked cigarettes. That was a 10-fold drop from a similar survey 11 years earlier.

I spend a lot of time around Staples students. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone mention cigarettes. I’m not at their parties, true — but smoking among Westport teenagers seems to be dying a slow death.

Now CVS is doing its part to hasten its demise.

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28 responses to “CVS Pulls The Plug

  1. Thank you CVS. It’s wonderful news. Thank you.

  2. Scott E. Brodie

    Dan — winderful news, of course. But I don’t quite understand how a “10-fold decrease” can produce a rate of 11% — that would suggest that 11 years ago, 110 percent of Staples Juniors were smokers. Things were surely never that bad!

    A lot of progress has been made in just a few generations. 60 years ago, perhaps half of American physicians were smokers. 30 years ago, about 10% of my medical school class smoked — they were shunted to the back row during exams! (It seemed a lot of them went into Psychiatry!) Of course, hospitals and medical schools have now been smoke-free for twenty years or so.

    • Interesting question, Scott. I used a direct quote from a Westport News article in my post (there’s a link to it in my story). I know I’m a fairly deficient product of the “new math” curriculum when I was in Westport schools; perhaps the Westport News writer was too. Glad to know you’re not!

  3. Ann Marie Flynn

    I hope The CVS news gets out to all….and other companies decide to follow their new practice.
    Unfortunately my friends who died from lung cancer (horrible) never had incentives like that around.

  4. Marcy Anson Fralick

    I am so glad that smoking is all but banned completely statewide in CO. All our Universities are smoke-free campuses, schools are, all workplaces, bars, restaurants, and other public places are, too. Cigarettes are rarely sold anywhere anymore and where they are, they’re locked up behind a cashier’s booth at customer service.

    But, the e-cigarette has been trying to replace them, fortunately, though, they’re being banned at all the same places as cigarettes, which is great! Even our prisons are smoke free, and hospitals now refuse to hire smokers. This is such a great turn around for people in the last 100 years!

    • David J. Loffredo

      Who needs cigarettes when you can get legalized pot? Not sure CO should be something we model our anti-smoking efforts after, I spent a couple of weeks in Aspen and Denver this summer and got to explain to my children what the “funny smell” was.

      • Marcy Anson Fralick

        There are only a few places in CO where you can legally buy pot. Aspen’s one of them, so’s Denver because they’re very liberal. And the majority of it is sold as edibles. So, I doubt you smelled any more pot there than you have in decades past. The wealthy ski areas approved the sale of recreational pot because it’s been used publicy for many, many years by the rich and famous, and no one cared. The only difference now is that it’s not illegal.

        Most of the cities and counties ban the sale of recreational MJ, and it’s banned on every educational campus in the state both public and private, including the University of Colorado. When the law was passed, it was passed on the condition that each city or county had the option of legalizing recreational sales in their jurisdictions. Not many have. So, if you don’t want to explain to your children what that smell is, go the other 98% of the state that still bans the sale of recreational pot.

  5. Carolanne Curry

    No applause from me
    Just another money move to get more money from the Feds under the new health and medical programs.
    They will make even more money than they did from selling cigarettes.
    What big company do you know who makes decisions based on a moral code these days?

  6. Michael Calise

    while putting together an annual Sportsmen of Westport Dinner booklet I ran across a picture from a Staples yearbook from the 50’s.with Frank Dornfield head coach at the time riding on the shoulders of a victorious Staples Wreckers team smoking a cigarette. Times do change!

  7. Stephanie Bass

    It took CVS a very long time to make this decision. Big deal. I don’t think they deserve a lot of credit. And the service there stinks.

  8. Selling tobacco in pharmacies is odd. Hopefully, there are no soda machines, either (are there?).

  9. Charlie Moulton

    Dan-who can forget learning how to smoke from my older brother Hays and the other older, cooler kids at “the drain” behind our house. Got me started on a half pack a day habit of Tareytons at the ripe age of 12! For 55 cents a pack I managed to get them regularly from machines and some stores. I always looked older than my age, but doubt I looked that much older, yet can only remember a couple of times when anybody refused to sell them to me or stopped me at a machine. Luckily the habit didn’t stick so I’m still around to remember the ” good old days” of my misspent youth!

  10. Thanks! I forwarded it to Shannon :-). Wish I could try every one lol

    Sent from my iPad



    HOORAY for CVS !!!!

  12. The cigarette display has been replaced with large panels offering support for “quitting.”

  13. I live in Colorado, where pot is legal..and I don’t smell it at all, oh maybe at a concert. Where oh where did you take your children David?

  14. A ten fold decrease seems unlikely. I will say I do remember more students smoking than today when I walk around Westport. Also, just as an aside CVS did not make this decision based on its concerns for the public health. They still sell beer, Twinkies, massive bottles of soda, and microwave dinners packed with sodium. The fact is, the way the taxes are imposed on cigarettes, there isn’t enough profit to be made from selling them. CVS is a publicly traded company; they clearly do not see this as something that would erode profits. Also, this is a company that is phasing out all of its low paid cashiers, and replacing them with automatic check out lines where the patron bags his own items. Even though this is a frightening look at the state of the low end labor force, it’s equally shocking that the cost of the items in CVS have not got down because they don’t have as many cahsiers. So they screw there workers and their customers by not even passing on lower prices. I think we all know where that money is going.

    • You are not forced to shop at CVS. No one is forced to buy anything they sell. Consumers reveal their preferences. I hope CVS did make this decision with shareholders in mind; CVS is not a charity.

      As the cost of labor increases relative to the cost of capital, capital will be substituted for labor. What do you expect to happen as the cost of labor increases?

  15. @mike, if you believe the capital/labor ratio has risen than you must in turn believe that fed policy has hindered job creation, when that has clearly been proven to be a fiscal problem, rather than monetary. that being said clearly the responsibility of cvs is to make money for the share holders; that’s enshrined in any publicly trade companies charter. that being said given their investment in automation rather than labor, you would think that cheaper prices would be passed on to the consumer. the reverse of that can be heard out of the mouth of every ceo in the country: if wages rise the consumer will have to pay more. interesting how that hasn’t played out in the case of cvs . they can do whatever they want as a company and clearly they have. my point was lets not make cvs into some paragon saint because they stopped selling cigarettes; it was about their bottom line and clearly this had very little impact.

    • Who is making CVS into a paragon? That is a straw man. They made a decision based on the economics. This what is expected of a profit making entity.
      CVS is in a competitive industry. They are constrained when setting prices.

      I did not say the capital/labor ratio has increased. I said that if the cost of labor rises relative to the cost of capital, capital will be substituted for labor. The demand for labor is not price inelastic .

  16. “who is making cvs into a paragon?” please see above posts. i understand the obligation the company has to its shareholders (however, from a moral perspective we can ask at what cost?), that being said you know as well as i when wage increases are on the table we are told it will be passed on to the consumer. when wages are cut (dearth of hiring due to automation) why isn’t the reverse true? its a fair question. yes, the demand for labor is elastic (i think how elastic it is debatable if we arent coming from the technical perspective) but that assumes that wages for workers and capital can be substituted easily without a significant loss to the brand; i would contend that this takes away value because i now have to bag my own items and deal with the machine and there are five people waiting behind me. we have to account for the human element. yes, its not mitchells, but still its takes away from the brand. guess we will have to see…

    • I did not make CVS a paragon. You criticized them for their choice of merchandise . If consumers want Twinkies, then some one will sell them Twinkies.

      Whose morals? Yours?

      As to the fate of the brand; the market will make that judgement .

  17. well that wasn’t addressed to you, but to other posters. i know the market is all knowing, and even when its wrong it reverts to the mean, hence it wasn’t really wrong to begin with.

  18. Truce! Why don’t the two of you go on the road to teach Economics together?
    Debate is a great teaching tool.
    Then again, the English majors will love your words, too:
    paragon, elastic, inelastic, dearth, straw man… even Twinkie will have them enraptured, and wondering what “mean” really means.

  19. just to be clear i never condemned them for selling twinkies and not selling cigarettes; just noted that the distinction was random.