CVS: Put This In Your Pipe And Smoke It. Wait…

News dropped yesterday that CVS would be ending sales of tobacco products in their 7,600 stores nationwide this fall, citing that the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products are inconsistent with their model to “to help people on their path to better health.”

More from CVS President and CEO Larry J. Merlo on the subject:

“Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

“As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners,” Merlo continued. “The significant action we’re taking today by removing tobacco products from our retail shelves further distinguishes us in how we are serving our patients, clients and health care providers and better positions us for continued growth in the evolving health care marketplace.”

I’m pro-choice when it comes to tobacco use. The stats are out there. Do you.

If promoting better health is truly the organization’s goal, then I commend their taking a stance on the subject and the overall initiative—a $2 Billion loss in sales I might add—but having spent the first 9.5 years of my working life at a CVS competitor, the people implications sent my mind racing…

Q1: Should CVS stop hiring tobacco users? Continuing to hire tobacco users is not consistent with their “to help people on their path to better health” pitch, and the corporate brand should marry the employer brand, after all. (Note: Hospitals have already stopped hiring smokers.)

Q2: If CVS were to stop hiring tobacco users, should they grandfather in current employees who presently use tobacco products? Of course they should! Average CPH is ridiculously high in that industry and they need to recoup that $2 billion loss. All kidding aside, they should.

Q3: If they grandfather in said employees, is it CVS’s corporate responsibility to offer a plan to help their employees stop using tobacco products? I’ve read a couple of articles that suggest there is a “very large” cessation plan in the works, but there is no indication if that plan is employee or customer facing. To me, it feels a little  hypocritical to ask tobacco users to recite the scripting Public Affairs will surely be sending down the pipe to mitigate customer reactions to the news.

Q4: If employees don’t stop using tobacco products, what then? I’ve always subscribed to the notion that if you don’t believe in the mission of the organization, you shouldn’t work there. Corporate employees may have slightly more employer options, but what about at a store level? Store level employees, for the most part, are hourly workers, making just above minimum wage, often hustling to make ends meet. Do they stay, or do they go if they don’t kick the habit?

Q5: Why stop the buck at tobacco—shouldn’t CVS strip their shelves of junk food, soda and alcohol, too? True: Smoking is the leading cause of premature disease and death in the U.S. with more than 480,000 deaths annually. Also True: Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming approximately 1 million lives annually—and two of the leading causes of heart disease are high cholesterol and alcohol consumption. If health is their focus, then tobacco is a great first step in that mission. However, I’d like to see a total health plan play out for both customers and employees.

I’m a glass half full kind of gal, so I naturally want to keep on believing that the shot callers at CVS have a plan for how this decision will impact their current and future employee base. We shall see…

What about you? What are your thoughts on the questions floating in my mind today? Let’s chat in the comments…

FOT Background Check

Holland Dombeck McCue
Holland Dombeck McCue is the former the Editor turned blogger here at Fistful of Talent. She joined the group in August of 2011 and launched FOT's podcast, The CYA Report, and monthly webinar series. Now she gets to participate in all the HR/talent pundit fun. Check her out on Twitter via @Holland_Dombeck.


  1. Tim Sackett says:

    HD –

    Anytime any corporation walks away from sales and profit, it’s big. Could or should they do more? Sure. But at least they did something. Both Walgreens and RiteAid were like “oh yeah, we’ve been thinking about that to…”, but they didn’t have the balls to do it.

    In regards to current employees – it would seem, to me, actually easier to make the in-house call first and stop hiring smokers, etc. The problem is, that causes more chaos internally, where stopping tobacco sales has positive press – and might actually buy them some new customers!


    • HD says:

      Tim – Completely agree it’s a great move on the part of CVS to pull the tobacco plug and a pretty interesting marketing twist against rivals Wag and Rite Aid. I support the mission 100%. Great first step, hope there’s a longer term plan on the other items. It’s certainly something we as Wag employees debated fairly regularly. On the employee front – I feel that stopping the hiring of employees who use tobacco products would only double the positive PR.

  2. kd says:

    I think it’s a good move.

    In terms of not hiring smokers, I think they stay away from this type of decision. After all, it’s one thing to say that seling smokes is inconsistent with your mission, but if you mission is to educate the world on healthy living, I’d say that mission includes everyone, and you’ve being too divisive if you cut the smokers from consideration.

    I think they go with the green mission, but keep hiring smokers and try to do what they can to influence them to quit, them help them.

    Do you, indeed. I guess folks can go the CVS or Rite-Aid. Or Shell – they have milk there too, right?

    HD told me to never buy Milk outside a grocery store.


    • HD says:

      I’m really interested to see the ‘very big” cessation plan play out and do feel it will be more around the general education. I would love to hear from of their tobacco using employee population and really get their thoughts on the move. Good? Bad? Indifferent? I smell a podcast. The handful of users that I do know are aware that it’s a unhealthy habit and would like to quit, but hey, do you.

      This is an FOT Public Service Announcement: NEVER buy milk outside of a grocery store.

  3. Laurie says:

    I’m okay with “do you” until we start to think about the public implications of you doing you.

    Just FYI to all the morons out there … please don’t do you.

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