Will CVS Stop Selling Potato Chips and Soda?

February 5, 2014

IMG_3891What’s more interesting than the CVS decision to halt tobacco sales is the social chatter holding CVS up as a champion of better living.

But to be a health organization, it takes a broader position than the proscription of cigarettes.  Wander the aisles of CVS and see how their nutritional offerings fit within the framework of an organization pitching health.

I can hear it now: Cigarettes kill, potato chips don’t.  But I’m not so sure about that.

You can’t make money peddling savory snacks while at once setting the pace for a healthy lifestyle.  And condemning one vice works for the press release, but not as a brand offering health solutions.

If CVS is interested in the disruption of health care they’ll need to move beyond cigarettes.


Linda Pourmassina, MD February 5, 2014 at 10:59 am

I’m with your overall sentiment here, Bryan.

As is the case with more profit-driven enterprises, a move to get rid of a fair amount of revenue is somewhat drastic. It is more likely to be a strategic move from a business perspective, rather than truly atruistic.
My skeptical mind says, “What does CVS have to gain? Where are they really going with this?”

…Though I am all for getting rid of cigarettes.

Joseph Babaian February 5, 2014 at 11:01 am

You have hit the nail on the head. CVS is going to gain great marketing and health cred for this move, but to be sure, they have not become the beacon of healthy living. Processed foods of the worst kind (if we are to differentiate) are sold at CVS and most all stores. Let’s never be blinded by savvy marketing and public perception moves to ever think health is to be found based on choosing the “right” store who “cares” more about outcomes. That’s just delusional.

Jim Salwitz February 5, 2014 at 11:56 am


While I appreciate your point, a major healthcare provider who is willing to take a direct 2 billion dollar hit with the possible spinoff of secondary loss as smokers take their drug business elsewhere, is to be applauded. Certainly reducing access to an addictive toxin is a great start and sends a powerful message. We should demand other pharmaceutical chains follow the CVS lead. That would not only save lives, but by leveling the playing field perhaps the whole retail pharmacy corporate model might move from mini-marts, to places of health improvement. Maybe then we can trash the potato chips.


DrV February 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

Excellent points. The move is remarkable. I have nothing against chips. I was trying to draw on the inherent tension that exists when retailers try to deliver health care.

Kudos to CVS. Now get rid of the corn nuts.

Joseph Babaian February 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Agreed! It is a big move. The business side of me knows, however, that no corp is doing this without extensive analysis for ROI. Now, some of the ROI is intangible and for the public good, but the rest is financial (they can’t afford to go out of business). Further, CVS Caremark is the prescription powerhouse and they don’t do anything without following the dollar. What this means is that CVS is savvy like a fox. I am not convinced it is a $2B US hit. I may be proved wrong, but I have my doubts.

Ok, MBA rant over :)

Joseph Babaian February 5, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Hi Jim,

I replied in general, but I have a more personal reply also, divorced from economics. Your work as an oncologist is amazing and so appreciated. Your perspective on smoking is so personal to you & your patients (and, sadly, future patients) that this CVS move is a win for cancer prevention from an obvious source. We can do more, but I know this move makes you think that if even one lung cancer is avoided as a result, you’ll sleep better.

Very best,


Jim Salwitz February 5, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Thanks very much for both comments … greatly appreciated. The CVS move opens up the difficult concept of providing altruistic and needed medical care in a for-profit society. As an oncologist I am occasionally challenged by frightened patients who are not certain if I am ordering an expensive therapy for my own benefit or theirs. On the other hand if we vote-with-our-feet and refuse to support vendors, whether it is pharma, insurance, hospitals or doctors, who do not present a global healthful approach to their business, maybe we can use the bottom financial line to improve the bottom health line.

DrV February 5, 2014 at 12:28 pm

And for sure, Jim, your perspective as an oncologist is critical and unique. I didn’t mean to take away from the importance of this by any means.

Matthew Weidman February 5, 2014 at 5:36 pm

My anti-tobacco fervor carried me away a bit when I first heard this announcement, but you (and @RheaBoydMD) reminded me that it’s good to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to the supposed benevolence of large corporations. Thanks for providing clarity & perspective … you excel at that!

Natalie hodge February 5, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Nicely said. And you get bonus points for the dox integration! How did u do that?

Best, natalie

Eli February 5, 2014 at 11:57 pm

SUGAR is Healthy
FAT is beautiful
CVS ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

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