Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 7, 2014

Announcement from CVS greeted with applause, shrugs

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — Healthcare providers around the county welcomed Wednesday’s announcement by CVS Pharmacy that the company will permanently discontinue all tobacco sales Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, the investment community and smokers alike appear to be greeting the news with a collective shrug.

Decatur County Health Department public health nurse Sue Colee told the Daily News the decision makes sense from a public health perspective. After all, she said, CVS is in the business of “making people well” and preventing illness. For the company to sell those same people a product known to be one of the biggest causes of preventable disease and death amounts to a huge contradiction. “From a common sense perspective,” she said, “it’s a good decision.”

Collee wasn’t comfortable, however, predicting whether the move might lead to lower smoking rates in Decatur County, but whatever the case, she said, “it’s a good step, and I admire CVS for doing it. It feels like we’ve got a new ally in healthcare with this decision.”

The veteran nurse added that, in a community where smoking rates are high, she sometimes gets frustrated when trying to educate patients on smoking’s health consequences, because she often spots those same patients smoking outside the clinic after an appointment. CVS’s decision, she said, feels like the case of a corporation understanding such frustration and trying to do something about it.

Cindy Daihl, Cancer Care manager at Decatur County Memorial Hospital also commended the move.

“We applaud CVS in their decision to no longer carry tobacco products,” she said. “Tobacco use is a major risk factor in many types of cancers and other diseases we see come into our hospital.”

This decision, she added, “helps us support the continuous efforts for better health in our community.”

Indiana State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D., was also pleased with the decision. In an email to the Daily News, VanNess proclaimed, “We applaud CVS/Caremark for boldly acting to remove tobacco products at all pharmacy locations, including nearly 300 stores in Indiana. This is a strong public health intervention that will reduce the availability of cigarettes and other tobacco products and sends a message to all Hoosiers, especially children, that tobacco use is uniquely harmful and socially unacceptable.”

Greg Rust, financial advisor with the Rust-Messer group at Greensburg’s Hilliard Lyons said the CVS announcement appears to be insignificant regarding to the company’s share price or financial stability.

He noted that, since the announcement, CVS’s stock has dropped roughly 1 percent in value, trading on the DOW as of this writing at $65.50, down from a peak of $71 in late December 2013.

“The drop we’ve seen in the stock since Dec. 31 would appear to be in sympathy with the overall market drop during the month of January,” he explained. “It would be difficult to build a strong case that the announcement [on the discontinuation of cigarette sales] has had an adverse impact.”

Rust further noted that Credit Suisse and Morningstar, two major research investment firms he consults in his practice, haven’t changed their ratings of CVS’s stock since the announcement (Credit Suisse rates the stock as “outperform,” while Morningstar gives it 3 stars of a possible 5).

“At this point,” Rust said, “it’s safe to say this announcement has had a minimum impact on the stock.”

With widespread acclaim reigning down from the healthcare community, one might suspect Walgreens would feel pressured to follow CVS’s lead.

Company spokesman Phil Caruso, however, sounded non-committal regarding the possibility of the company discontinuing tobacco sales. He told the Daily News via email: “We [Walgreen’s] have been evaluating this product category for some time to balance the choices our customers expect from us, with their ongoing health needs. We will continue to evaluate the choice of products our customers want, while also helping to educate them and to provide smoking cessation products and alternatives that help to reduce the demand for tobacco products.”

More, Caruso stressed, Walgreens focuses heavily on programs that encourage smokers to kick their habits by addressing “the root cause” of smoking and offering customers “solutions to help change behavior.”

Greensburg CVS store manager David Harris told the Daily News he couldn’t comment on the company’s decision, and corporate representatives didn’t return phone calls. Harris did confirm, however, that the Greensburg outlet would continue selling smoking cessation products.

Second-grade teacher Brittany Cooper of Jac-Cen-Del Elementary School said she welcomes the announcement. Cooper, a non-smoker, lost a grandfather to lung cancer and regularly smells smoke on some of her students as they come to class. She appreciates any effort to reduce the number of cigarettes available to the public. She stressed, however, that the CVS decision won’t affect how often she shops at the pharmacy.

Local smokers, meanwhile, were mostly indifferent to CVS’s announcement.

“It won’t affect whether I shop there,” said Greensburg smoker Amy Fleenor. “I can’t use my CVS rewards points on cigarettes, anyway, and they cost between 20 and 30 cents more there. I only buy cigarettes there as a matter of convenience – if I’m out at CVS anyway, and don’t want to stop somewhere else.”

“I never buy cigarettes [at CVS],” said Westport smoker Ginny Rudd. “They’re more expensive at CVS. I mostly just get my medicines there.”

Rudd added that she doesn’t feel strongly about the decision either way. “It wasn’t government mandated,” she said. “It’s a corporation making a decision not to sell a product, so I don’t really have a problem with that. I’m neutral.”

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; robert.cox@greensburgdailynews.com