by Klaus Kneale
FEBRUARY 6, 2014
As CVS further heads towards being a health care and service provider, the presence of cigarettes in store has become more and more problematic. CVS has been adding small clinics and services for individuals with chronic illnesses (for example: high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking addiction). Eventually, the company would need to cut the most harmful of products from its shelves — and there’s no doubt that the most harmful products on its shelves are cigarettes.
So CVS, the second-largest drug store chain in the US, has announced that by October 1st of this year, all its stores will no longer be selling cigarettes. That’s 7,600 stores nationwide. The move is being praised by anti-smoking groups, public health advocates, and even president Obama himself. Many major companies that used to sell cigarettes through retail outlets have now stopped and the trend is growing to cut all cigarettes from many stores.
This is a bold decision, even now. Cigarettes not only represent a near constant cash flow for every store that sells them, but they bring customers inside which often means more purchases than just the smokes. Roughly 40% of in-store purchases for convenient stores, for instance, tends to be cigarettes.
But what does it mean for electronic cigarettes? This isn’t easily answered, but here’s a few notes on where this could go for the devices.
Stores may choose to view them as safe alternatives or cessation options. Recent data suggests that electronic cigarettes don’t cause long-term harm andcan be a successful smoking alternative. Stores that would otherwise choose not to sell tobacco products may still be willing to carry e-cigs. The presence of electronic cigarettes might even be what is making companies comfortable with ditching the dirty stuff. Imagine not only the statement, but the immediate market growth of drug stores, retail outlets, and even convenience stores deciding to carry electronic cigarettes instead of tobacco cigarettes (rather than in addition to). It may take some time before that happens, but it’s not impossible.
On the other hand, this could be a start to a massive anti-smoking business sweep the likes of which we’ve never seen. As companies have become more aware of the dangers and deadliness of cigarettes, it becomes more difficult to justify selling them to customers. Thus far, cigarette sellers have not been held accountable for the death they deal — that’s fallen on the companies that make the products. Perhaps some companies a sensing a shift in the wind. As graphic warnings and heftier barriers become a reality and public sentiment towards smoking further declines, consumers may more actively avoid establishments that sell cigarettes. Frankly, it’s getting to the point that a retailer may soon need to read a script of dangers to every customer and have them initial the sheet before the selling them a single cigarette.
Cigarettes are an easy target for hate these days. Similar to issues like crime and drugs, it’s easier for politicians to buy points with the public by being tough on them. No one wants to be the guy arguing against being tough on crime. No one wants to be the guy arguing against being tough on smoking these days. The concern is that electronic cigarettes will get swept up in anti-smoking sentiment — despite not creating smoke. This issue with this is that gradually rules designed to be fair responses to danger and negligence get blown way out of proportion.
Companies like CVS will have a mostly easy time stating that they are not selling any tobacco products and including e-cigs in that ban. It is much harder for them to say that they aren’t selling any tobacco products except e-cigs, and then explaining why e-cigs aren’t tobacco products and should be supported and so on. Many tobacco prohibitionists will simply argue that they want the good will of fighting smoking addiction without giving up the profits of selling cigarettes. It’s not a strong argument, but the public doesn’t listen to explanations, it listens to sound bites and story titles without reading the articles.
However, and this might be painful, a massive sweep away of all tobacco products including electronic cigarettes could be a good thing for e-cigs in the long run. Though painful in the short term, once people get smoking and anti-smoking efforts mostly out of their systems, there will be room for more meaningful conversation about why e-cigs should be on the open market. Everything gets swept away, taxed to high heavens, pushed to only the most niche of store fronts, and requires elaborate statements of understanding of the harm of use to obtain — only then do we consider the value of “alternatives.”
The arch of electronic cigarettes might be similar to what’s happening with marijuana. Despite sweeping it away and making it totally illegal in 1937 here in the US, medical marijuana became a topic of study in the 1960′s, and open legalization is beginning to happen at the state level. This is a rather long time to wait, but information moves far quicker these days. The same curve (which is taking around 80 years for marijuana) could happen far faster for electronic cigarettes — and in tandem with the phasing out of obsolete and dangerous traditional cigarettes.
It does seem unlikely that CVS will carry electronic cigarettes in place of tobacco in the immediate future — especially since the verdict still stands that e-cigs can’t be marketed or sold as cessation options or lower risk alternatives. However, as more companies cut tobacco from their stock, taxes increase, and further anti-smoking meddling occurs, the ability to buy e-cigs online and absent these meddlings could end up being the x-factor for many consumers that convinces them to make the change.
Only time will tell.
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