CVS Decision To Stop Selling Cigs Puts Spotlight on Food

CVS is getting a lot of love, not undeserved by the way, for it’s decision to stop selling tobacco products at it’s drugstores. As CEO Larry J. Merlo stated in making the decision to remove tobacco from it’s shelves:

“We have about 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners helping patients manage chronic problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are linked to smoking,” said Larry J. Merlo, chief executive of CVS. “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”

Not surprisingly, a lightbulb immediately went off in the food and health community’s collective brains. If cigarettes and it’s effects aren’t compatible with providing health care, how could the junk food that CVS sells, which have similar effects on people’s health, be a sound pairing either? The NYT started a debate on what other products CVS should stop selling, with two of the answers zeroing in on junk food and sugary (energy) drinks. And over the weekend, an op-ed in the Boston Globe stated “what other dangerous products should go behind the counter when the wall of cancer sticks comes down: Coke, Pepsi, Gatorade, Red Bull, and all other sugary beverages.”


These comparisons are not well received by everyone of course.  A Forbes article states:

“Food companies obviously scoff at the comparison of these two highly dissimilar product categories, as should any person who doesn’t have an axe to grind. But now that opportunities for paternalistic power and money through tobacco control are waning, anti-Big Food activists and their erstwhile allies in the plaintiffs’ bar see food as a logical and vulnerable next target. And they have at the ready an effective strategic activism plan, battle-tested from the “tobacco wars.”


What the author of the Forbes article, Glenn G. Lammi, gets wrong though in trotting the freedom trope out is that many food and health activists are not truly looking for “paternalistic power” or “anti-democratic regulation.” In fact, many, and we include Swich amongst this group, may want to help more people be healthier (the horror!), but are not advocating banning anything. Instead, many are primarily trying to educate people to counteract the misleading (to be nice) information that they are bombarded with everyday and advocating the  end of implicit and explicit subsidies that are given to unhealthy products in order to make the playing field more level so that consumers can make their own free choices without being skewed and influenced towards unhealthy products (as they are currently). The irony is that CVS saw the writing on the wall that it was better for the future of it’s business model to stop selling smokes.


Isn’t that exactly how folks like Lammi believe things should work?