CVSBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 2/2014

“Cigarettes are the only product, that if used as directed, will kill you.” – George Carlin

Full disclosure: no one asked me to write this, and this is not a paid endorsement nor advertisement.

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I am a fan of the CVS here in Foxboro. While I do patronize other pharmacies, there’s something about our CVS that it awesome — the people. From pharmacy to management to the cashiers — their professionalism is second to none. No matter how busy they are, they take their time to explain the medications, to assist customers with what they need, and make each customer feel like they matter.

All of the people who work at CVS Foxboro – all of them — are so professional, so friendly, and so pleasant that I really enjoy going there.

While CVS is a CORPORATION, our local store on Central Street feels much more like a “local business” — in other words, it’s a place where one feels welcome and WANTS to go to do business. There’s a hometown feeling, a familiarity that’s pretty rare for any chain store.

Now, there are many other small businesses in Foxboro equally worthy of the accolades that I am conveying to CVS today: places we patronize because the people are so friendly, helpful and professional. Aubuchon Hardware comes to mind. So does Primos. So does Cindi’s Jewelry. And so many others.

But again, this is not an advertisement, but an acknowledgement of something that CVS did that is AWESOME: Parent company CVS Caremark announced that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at all of its CVS pharmacy stores as of this October 2014.

Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a statement, “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health … Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The staggering part? The decision to stop selling tobacco products will result in an over $2 billion dollar LOSS per year for the company. That’s billion with a big B, folks.

Imagine that, a company putting customer health over profit. Wow.

It’s a decision that affects me on a personal level; I don’t smoke because my dad died of cancer when he was only 47 – and he started when he was nine years old. NINE. Dad smoked at least a pack a day for most of his life, and he could buy them himself as a youngster. And even when I was a kid, we bought them for our parents: Milk, bread, pack of Kent’s.

These days, you have to be 18 years old to buy cigarettes – that’s a great law. Maybe if such a law had existed when Dad was a kid, he would still be alive. Yeah, it’s wishful thinking – but I take some comfort that there’s been real progress over the last generation to help people stop smoking, to educate folks who smoke about the dangers, and perhaps most importantly, to keep smokes out of the hands of minors. All this is great.

And to be clear – I am not in favor of over-regulation. While age restricting certain products is a no-brainer, the endless campaigns to ban this or that — trans fats, soda, sweeteners, junk food, candy… the list goes on and on, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I am against most of these bans, for the simple reason that NONE of these products in MODERATION will kill you or undermine your health. The same cannot be said for cigarettes. EVERY puff does damage. The overwhelming scientific evidence of the last half century proves that smoking cigarettes will eventually kill you.

So, lest I get too preachy (who, me?) let me end on these four points:

First — I have no issue with businesses who sell cigarettes. I never, ever want to see tobacco illegal; I just want it to be difficult for young people to buy them. You sell cigarettes? No problem at all as long as the buyer is 18 or older. No harm, no foul. You’re in business to make a profit.

Second – you smoke? You’re over 18? You’re an adult. You know the risk. End of speech on that one.

Third — Our CVS here in Foxboro is awesome, a large chain store with a small-town, family atmosphere, and the people who work there rock. Just saying.

Finally — Parent company CVS Caremark – first and foremost a BUSINESS that must make PROFIT, made a sweeping, game-changing decision that puts the health of its customer base first, a choice that will cost it billions in lost sales.

CVS made a powerful statement that will resonate across the business world for a long time and likely set a precedent for similar businesses, and hopefully will contribute to the effort to help people stop smoking, and raise the consciousness of the dangers of smoking.

Well done, CVS. Well done.

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