With eighteeen percent of American adults as smokers, it is difficult to miss the tobacco sale transaction. Sure, we zone out while in the checkout line while the process is delayed by someone seeking to purchase tobacco products from behind the counter. We tune it out. Those of us old enough to remember tobacco product sampling on the streets still, occasionally, marvel at these gestures toward tobacco de-normalization. But, the line slows little because this transaction is most likley to take place in a gas station,where some 47.5% of American tobacco purchases are reported to take place. You see, the tobacco displays are in easy convenient reach of the centralized paying station in many gas stations.
From this perspective, it would be big news if gas stations announced their intention to stop selling tobacco products. But, this month, the focus has been on the announcement by the CVS drugstore chain (second largest, by number of outlets) to stop selling tobacco products. Since drugstores account for an estimated 3.6% of all American tobacco sales, this is not insignificant and it could be even more significant if the Riteaid and Walgreen chains follow suit.
CVS announced "Cigarettes have no place in an environment where health care is being delivered." Interestingly, I recall no such pronouncement from Target when they ceased sales in in 1986, merely indicating that tobacco sales were not profitable. Of course, Target lacks the centralized check out/tobacco product dispensing station that is the sine qua non of both new CVS stores and American gas stations.
No, what's really driving this is CVS's desire to position itself as a health care company in alliance with providers (think the Cleveland Clinic) and insurer-endorsed retail medicine (think minute clinics). And some of those would be allies have reportedly been balking at CVS's sales of tobacco products.
In Missouri, our local CVS samples distilled spirits products. It stopped me in my tracks on the way to the distilled water display to walk by what was essentially a bar set up in my tiny neighborhood CVS and to hear a young man standing in the bartender's location ask me if I would like something to drink.