CVS Caremark, one of the largest drugstore chains in the nation, announced Wednesday that it would halt its sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products by October in an attempt to live up to its role as one of the leading healthcare providers in country, according to The New York Times. As well-intentioned as this move is, however, it is unlikely to make any significant impact on the already dwindling favorability of cigarettes nationwide.
The company’s decision to stop selling cigarettes has been lauded by many as a critical first step in substantially cutting smoking rates. The anti-smoking sentiment that is trying to be achieved, however, isn’t exactly new. Eighty-two percent of Americans already view smoking as very harmful, according to Gallup. The fact that smoking has serious health consequences is universally acknowledged by smokers and nonsmokers alike. Though CVS’ decision might garner the support of those who are already opposed to smoking or indifferent to it, it’s unlikely that the ban will have much of an effect on the regular smoker aside from the potential inconvenience of having to shop for cigarettes elsewhere.
It is this lack of convenience that CVS competitors will likely take advantage of. Though many hope that CVS will pressure other large pharmacies to remove tobacco products from their stores, it is unlikely that these companies won’t take advantage of the opportunity to increase sales. CVS’ decision is estimated to curb its sales by approximately $2 billion — a minor dent in its overall profits of approximately $123 billion. But what’s considered a small profit cut to CVS might not be the case for other companies.
In fact, CVS’ decision to discontinue its sale of tobacco will only incentivize smokers to take their business elsewhere. The fact of the matter is that cigarettes are an inelastic good — they’re primarily purchased by consumers who have an addiction to nicotine. CVS’ decision to stop selling tobacco products won’t suddenly rid its consumers of their addiction. Rather, it’ll only spur them to shop somewhere else. To treat tobacco dependency like a stigma that can be cured by cutting off the supply isn’t just naive, but also a clear misunderstanding of addiction itself.
Ultimately, the exclusion of cigarettes from stores is a trend that has already been in effect in cities such as San Francisco and Boston, and one that will likely be incorporated in other cities in the future. But to think that such a decision will discourage individuals from an already unpopular practice is improbable. Regardless of CVS’ good intentions, its ultimate goal of curbing smoking is unlikely to make a serious impact.
Yasmeen Serhan is a sophomore majoring in international relations. She is also the Editorial Director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Fridays.