CVS Stores Have Been Tobacco- & Crisis-Free for Five Years

The Pharmacy and Health Insurance Company Decided Five-Years Ago to Align Its Policies and Purpose        

9/16/19 – – Several times each week, I receive emails from CVS, my pharmacy of choice. While most of them offer discounts and product promotions, a recent message from the company’s president headlined, “5 Years Ago, We Quit Selling Tobacco,” caught my attention. 

In Chapter 3 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient — Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Where Crises Come From”), I cite the company’s bold decision in 2014 to discontinue all sales of tobacco products as an excellent example of an organization preventing a crisis by updating its policies to stay in tune with its purpose. At the time the policy change was announced and CVS was transitioning to its new name, CVS Health, President and CEO Larry Merlo observed, “Put simply, the sale of tobacco is inconsistent with our purpose.”     

In my head, I can still see the colorful display of cigarettes that used to be behind the checkout counter of every CVS. It had to be a difficult and expensive decision to blow away that powerful point-of-purchase impulse buying opportunity. Looking back over the last five years of tobacco-free stores, Merlo explained, “We did it to be true to ourselves as a health care company, and for you and your family.”

Merlo points out that the company, which in 2018 acquired health insurer Aetna, has done a lot more than ban the butts: “Instead of selling hundreds of millions of packs of cigarettes during those five years, we’ve supported hundreds of thousands of people as they’ve quit smoking, and with the CVS Health Foundation we’ve pledged $50 million to help create a tobacco-free generation and launched an aggressive $10 million strategy to fight the epidemic of youth vaping through an innovative partnership with Discovery Education and the CATCH Global Foundation.”

Policies in conflict with your purpose, promises and personality are sure to bring trouble. Consider the current public uproar over e-cigarette sellers touting vaping as a safe way for adults to break the nicotine habit while marketing flavors like Fruit Loops, cotton candy and mango. Or, as I feature in my book, the criticism a few years ago  of “period-underwear” company Thinx that offered its women employees taking maternity leave only two weeks at full pay while claiming to stand for “female empowerment.”

CVS Health’s Merlo, who’s even taken sunscreens with SPF less than 15 off the shelves, makes clear the company’s opportunity and promise: “Each day, we engage with more than 5 million Americans and every one of those encounters is a chance for us to help you improve your health.”

No way could his company’s ambitious mission be taken seriously without the alignment of policies and purpose.

I’ve linked Merlo’s email message below. Good stuff. But sorry, it doesn’t come with any discount coupons.

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