Goodbye Cigarettes: Should CVS Dump Junk Food and Alcohol Too?

Goodbye Cigarettes: Should CVS Dump Junk Food and Alcohol Too?

When CVS announced its plan to stop selling all tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by October 1, 2014 and walk away from 2 billion in tobacco related business, the media immediately began to speculate whether other major drug store chains would follow suit. The more interesting question to me is whether tobacco is the only product line that will be removed from "drug store" shelves.

Since most drug stores are already providing basic health checks and flu shots, it seems safe to bet it's only a matter of time before Walgreens and the like firmly hitch their profits to the health care wagon. But I also think tobacco is only the beginning. Alcohol and junk food could be banned too from drugstore shelves. And that's probably a good thing for CVS -- and us. Here's why.

tortilla chip

Image: Final Gather via Flickr

It’s About Money

Retail consumption is down and will be far into the foreseeable future.  Currently, health care is 18% of our economy and growing fast.  By 2020, it is projected to be at 20%.  In banning tobacco products, CVS made a long-term health decision about the future of the company.  Their announcement acknowledges the shift in their business model, aimed at getting a bigger slice of that health care pie and taking advantage of various aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

According to CVS:

"By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health-care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health-care company," Larry Merlo, president and chief executive of CVS, said in a video statement. "Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do." (CVS to stop selling cigarettes by Oct. 1, Sarah Kliff, Washington Post)

Notice, there are no retail customers mentioned in that statement.  CVS is now in the health care delivery business.  The customer who walks through their door is now a patient.  CVS's focus is on serving its clients, who will make up that 2 billion in lost business.  Those clients are in the health care, pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.

But we are winners too.  Currently, CVS has 750 MINUTE CLINICS, the country’s largest chain of pharmacy-based health clinics.  Through contracts with health care providers and health care insurers, CVS is working to provide primary care services on weekends and evenings, when doctors’ offices are usually closed.

It’s About Health

There is no getting around the fact that focusing on health is in our future.  Health care increasingly impacts our wallets.  But, more importantly, health care is increasingly taking over our lives.
The World Health Organization released  The WHO's World Cancer Report 2014 warning that "The global burden of cancer will grow by 70 percent over the next two decades with an estimated 22 million new cases and 13 million deaths each year by 2032."

Yes, these are world figures, but just think about it for a minute.  Who has not already seen or directly felt the impact of cancer on the lives of family and friends?

A 70% increase over the next 20 years.  Just in cancer.  In the US, cancer is only the second leading cause of death from chronic disease.  Heart disease come first, but there is also diabetes, stroke, etc.  No health care system, individually or collectively, can handle an increase in patient care at this level.  If we are going to get serious about health, we need to get serious about prevention.

The good news, if there is some, is that the World Health Organization claims half of the new cancer cases, that is 11 million a year, are preventable.  That is huge!

So what are the top causes of preventable cancer?  They are same major players in almost every other chronic disease, and we could probably list most of them without much thought.  According to the WHO, they are:

  • Obesity
  • Diet
  • Inactivity
  • Tobacco Use
  • Alcohol Use

Tobacco products are responsible for many forms of cancer.  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death.  Almost all of lung cancer it is from smoking.  So it makes sense for CVS as a health care deliverer to ban tobacco from their stores.

Alcohol is a major contributor to liver disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and some cancers.   How can CVS be in the health care delivery business and sell alcohol when it doesn't sell tobacco?  Particularly when not all CVSs sell alcohol in their stores anyway due to state or county laws.  So, to be consistent across stores and with their tobacco ban, CVS should say bye-bye to alcohol too.

But junk food? Sure, we all know that it's not good for us and can make us obese, but well...  It’s everywhere.

It's About Science

Food and diet are a big part of preventing and fighting disease.  We get the nutrients we need for a well-functioning body from our food.  And, yes it is true -- we are what we eat.  Junk in equals junk out.  Poor diet is a major factor in heart disease, cancer, diabetes, allergies, weight gain, digestive disorders, etc.

Junk food -- highly processed, high fat, high carbohydrate, high sugar, high salt  -- assaults the functioning of even a healthy body on multiple fronts.

  • Junk food lacks the complex nutritional components that we need for a healthy functioning body.
  • Junk food is more calorie dense so it displaces more of the nutritionally rich foods.
  • Junk food is increasingly becoming a mainstay of our diet.  It is not just for "snacks" anymore.

Okay.  So, bad enough that "junk food" doesn't work for us in maintaining a healthy functioning body, but increasingly research is showing that junk food actively fights against the healthy functionings of our body.

  • Like cigarettes, junk foods are designed to override our body's natural system of regulation, particularly in the area of consumption and satiation (feelings of fullness).  So we eat more, by design.

But worst all, junk food sets off alarm bells in our body.

  • Within minutes of consumption, junk food causes low grade inflammation, that activates our immune system and hijacks our body's resources and thus hinders its ability to fight diseases or even function normally.

If CVS is to become a vital part of our health care delivery system, it will need to remove more than just tobacco products.   From where I sit, saying good-bye to alcohol and junk foods would be a smart move.

What do you think?  Should CVS shop selling alcohol and junk food?

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