Butt out

CVS’s decision to stop selling cigarettes has got to be one of the easiest it ever made

February 5, 2014
February 5, 2014

US drugstore chain CVS will by October 14 become the first in the US to stop carrying tobacco products nationwide, CVS Caremark Corp announced today. About time, you might think—drugstores, after all, are health and wellness centers, and we’ve known about the hazards of smoking since the 1960s. But the reason is probably just that cigarettes weren’t that profitable anymore.

US cigarette sales have fallen nearly a third between 2003 and 2013, and just 18% of adults in the US smoke, a figure the American Lung Association is trying to get down to 10% in the next decade. That makes the decision to stop carrying tobacco pretty easy. CVS Caremark Corp reports that its stores will lose an estimated $2 billion in sales from tobacco products this year, but it still expects to make $132.9 billion in total sales. Moreover, if sales fall further—and they will, barring a sudden resurgence of smoking in America—it’s a smart PR move for the company to pull the products while it still seems like a sacrifice. Meanwhile, the company’s pharmacy sales are expanding. And in any case, it plans to replace lost tobacco sales by selling anti-smoking aids like nicotine patches.

Moreover, since only 4% of US tobacco sales occurred in drugstores in 2012, compared to 16% in convenience stores, 21% in specialist shops, and 48% in gas stations, don’t be surprised if other prominent pharmacy chains follow suit. None of them wants to be the last drugstore left selling the number one preventable cause of disease and death.

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