This week, the CEO of CVS Caremark announced that the store would stop selling tobacco products nationwide by Oct. 1 of this year. The decision is set to cost the chain about $2 billion in yearly revenue.
Obviously, CVS is not making this decision on its financial implications. They are choosing to eliminate a harmful product that they feel does not belong in a pharmacy. To be fair, analysts have pointed out that due to increasing regulations and taxes the idea of getting rid of tobacco is much more appealing to stores.
It is important to note that even though CVS was able to make this decision to support health, many other shops would not be financially capable of making the same decision. As mentioned above, the taxes and regulations could nudge companies in this direction, but due to the initial hit in profits stores would have to take it is unlikely that they will do so. To that end, I believe that the government should be focusing more on helping stores that choose to pursue healthier options instead of regulating the non-healthy items out of existence.
While a certain amount of pressure is on the government to keep its citizens safe, there should always be serious questions regarding regulation of consumable products. It is the fine line between making sure products on the shelf are properly advertised or labeled and controlling what the public wants to buy. By offering subsidies to companies that support healthier business models, the government can encourage a healthier society while still allowing those individuals or companies that choose to consume or sell more dangerous products to do so. To me, this is the ideal government: one that promotes health and general well being for its citizens while still ensuring the individual freedom for each individual to choose his/her own path.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the growing cost of maintaining health in the States. Having unhealthy citizens can not only cost more money in health care as we move closer to a fully socialized health system, but also places unnecessary stress on existing infrastructure. The ideal economy is one where the citizens can fuel the workforce and be a driving part of spending. But with earlier deaths, diseases and disabilities caused by poor health, the economy undoubtedly suffers from the loss of economic participation. Good health only has benefits and the sooner we realize that as a nation the better.
I applaud CVS’ decision, and I hope the short term loss will be outweighed by eventual legislation to support good health initiatives. Considering that local governments already give out more than $80 billion in subsidies nationwide per year, adding another for a well deserved cause would not seem to add too much of a burden to the system. Fundamentally, we are a stronger nation if our people are healthier and that should not go unmentioned in the debate when we consider the role of our government. While taxes and increased regulations can certainly encourage a healthy shift, nothing is going to stop individuals who want to smoke, or continue any other unhealthy habit, from doing so. The much better strategy is to reward places for giving up the potential profit of these vices and encourage bigger stores to leave those products to specialty shops.