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

Holland Dombeck McCue Change, Current Affairs, Holland Dombeck

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…