Tobacco-Free CVS: Healthy Policies, or Smoke and Mirrors?

Cigarette smoking is disgusting. Period. That’s why we try to limit ourselves to not more than two packs of Double Happiness per day.


Cigarette smoking has cost us one relationship already – the proverbial one-that-got-away, as it were –  and was a major contributing factor in the demise of another. Aye, there’s only so much good BV pour homme can do when every fiber and each follicle smells like the smokers’ lounge in Narita International Airport. We rue the day – Shanghai, September 2000 – we purchased our first pack of Hongmei.  And were nicotine currently not an essential part of our diet and rigorously-maintained exercise regime and eating disorder, we would very seriously consider thinking about contemplating kicking the habit.

So let us be clear. We loathe our own dependency on the weed. We’re not part of the Smokers’ Rights scene, and we are not apologists for the American (or any other) tobacco industry. We do not take issue with non-smoking ordinances, or the extinction of smoking sections in restaurants — albeit perhaps this is because we started smoking late in life, and commenced courting the tubular carcinogen while living in a country where there are few of the former and just about every section of every restaurant becomes a smoking section if you demand an ashtray. Times may at last be changing for the asthmatic dragon. But when urban skies are clumpy and clotted, and the air tastes of concrete, diesel, and sulfur, and every third metropolite is rocking a face mask (UGGs for the fisog — MUGGs?), igniting our hongshuangxi merely seems stupid, and not suicidal.

Some readers may remember the discussion that flourished in the late 1970s regarding “health as a theoretical concept”, this phrase being the title of a paper of monumental importance in contemporary philosophy of medicine.[i] How best to understand, conceptualize, and define ‘health’ remains speculatively interesting and practically important; and if the modest mountain of papers written on the subject ever threatened to converge upon a single shared conclusion, it was that ‘health’ may be conceptualized in more or less “normative” terms, but, while health is undoubtedly a good thing, who defines ‘health’ – how they define it, and whether they define it in mainly normative or mainly descriptive terms – is not merely one of academia’s more intractable balls of yarn or abstruse Glasperlenspiel. It matters.

And it is a subject to which we will one day return. We will probably use this exact same paragraph (supra) when we do.

Thoughts about health continue to occupy us, and – en passant – we wonder:

How committed really is CVS to health-promotion?

The decision of Rhode Island-based CVS to drop cigarettes and tobacco products will not effect us too much. We are rarely resident in the USA and therefore score our gear from the nearest Kedi or C-Store — two of China’s answers to Seven-Eleven.

But in the interests of integrity, we hope CVS will also yank pipes and pipe cleaners, and any butane or other lighter that is packaged specifically as a “cigarette” lighter.

We hope also they will pull all candy and junk-food from kid-high shelves at the till. If CVS is truly positioning to be a leader in healthcare and health-promotion, this is the appropriate response to concerns of public health experts and others about childhood obesity.

“Ending sales of tobacco, according to Larry Merlo, president and CEO, CVS Caremark CVS +0.62%, was the right move for the chain. ‘Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose’, he said in a statement”.

“Monster” brand energy drink, and other highly-caffeinated beverages, have been cited or implicated as causal factors in some cardiac crisis cases, so those should probably go too — if not for reasons of consistency with their “purpose”, then perhaps with a view to the specter of  liability.

And pajama-jeans. And Snuggies. Please. Those have to go. Selling sofa-slug attire and Nyquil sleep syrup and Doritos and cake frosting cannot be considered advocacy for healthy-living.

So by all means, remove tobacco products. But don’t stop there.

CVS may be right on principle to divest itself of any connections to smoking —  staff in Boots, our preferred High Street chemist back in Blighty, were bemused if not horrified when (new in the UK) we asked them where they kept the fags.  And fair enough, there’s something peculiar about CVS pitching Pall Malls to those who’ve just filled prescriptions for Ventolin inhaler.

But the move will do little to stop cigarette sales, and will provide a shot in the arm for small mom-and-pop corner shops and specialist tobacconists, especially those a short wheezy walk across the CVS parking lot. And then, of course, filling-stations.  Heaven knows nothing could be safer, or more sensible, or better for human health and wellness than selling cigarettes and lighters in the one place where smoking is absolutely, unquestionably, and for very good reason strictly Verboten.

Twenty on pump four, please — and this Bic, a pack of American Spirits yellow, and a six-pack of Stella.  We’re off to CVS for condoms, Red Bull, a box of No-Doze, a box of chocolates, shoe polish, and a birthday card.

Yes. That’s much, much better.

[i] Boorse C, Health as a theoretical concept, Philosophy of Science, 44(1977), 99.542-573. See also Boorse C, On the distinction between disease and illness, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 5 (Fall 1975): 49-68; Englehardt T, Ideology and Etiology, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 1976 vol.1, no.3.


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