Last month, US drugstore CVS earned plaudits from the president on down after it announced it would cease selling tobacco products by October, the first such chain in America to do so. The decision would cost it $2 billion in annual sales, said the company (although that’s less than 2% of its total revenue).
It was smart PR, but the move was also designed to strengthen CVS’s relationships with insurers and doctors. As Businessweek pointed out, the aging of the baby-boomer generation means that prescription drugs have much more growth potential than cigarettes do.
At any rate, today CVS’s rival Walgreens refused to commit to doing the same. Asked on a conference call whether the company saw a gap in the tobacco market now that CVS is exiting, CEO Gregory Wasson said:
What we’re focused on is to help encourage our customers to make healthy choices and not only just with cigarettes but with daily habits… That includes helping people quit…. We think we are well-positioned to help folks change their behavior who want to quit. So our pharmacists are geared up and we really want to begin to help change behavior. So that’s our area of focus.
Pressed as to whether the company would stick with cigarette sales, unless authorities, like in San Francisco, mandated against it, he said:
Well as I said, we’re going to help people change behavior, we’re going to help them quit and I don’t think there is anyone better than a retail pharmacy where the pharmacist and smoking cessation products that can help people change their behavior and help them quit.
Those comments are suitably evasive, but spokesman for Walgreens confirmed that its existing policy to sell tobacco products remains in place.