CVS tobacco ban not enough – help people limit weight, live healthier

March 18, 2014

Cigarette quitters often gain weight – helping people transition to healthier diets is a retail opportunity.

CVS earned plaudits for its upcoming ban on tobacco products (October 1) – and inspired the attorneys general from 28 states and territories to push for similar bans from Kroger, Safeway, Walmart, Walgreen and Rite Aid.

For now, the move helps to separate CVS from some of its toughest competitors in retail health care – a business expected to surge with millions more insured Americans this year due to health reform, yet a vast physician shortage that will leave many seeking alternate care sites. To meet anticipated demand, retailers have opened in-store clinics and formed relationships with hospitals, ACOs and physician groups.

A foothold in this growth area of health care is worth far more to CVS than the under $2 billion in yearly revenue it has gotten from a declining tobacco business. Importantly, CVS eliminates any ethical questions its new hospital and primary care partners may have about the paradox of tobacco sales at the 7,600-store chain.  

But they and other chains can’t ignore the risk of weight gain and potential obesity among former smokers, we feel at The Lempert Report. The Mayo Clinic website calls weight gain “fairly common” but not “inevitable” after a person stops smoking. Lowell Dale, MD, describes on the Mayo Clinic website that “smoking acts as an appetite suppressant and may slightly increase metabolism. When you quit…appetite and metabolism return to normal [and] your ability to smell and taste food improves.” Healthline commentary implies that snacking might substitute for smoking as a way to “keep your hands and mouth busy” and “get that ‘feel-good’ boost during the day.” Both sources suggest healthier lifestyles for consumers.

Which is exactly why The Lempert Report urges retailers to broadly frame their smoking cessation efforts Do so, and retailers can engage consumers in especially meaningful ways at a potential turning point in their lives.   

It’s not enough to limit or end sales of tobacco products while concurrently selling smoking cessation products. A more holistic approach that encourages healthy snack purchases and exercise, and includes educational content and possibly pharmacist counseling, we believe, would be more credible, comprehensive and appreciated by consumers. This could develop into a significant revenue stream that aligns with the missions of many retailers to help people to eat and live healthier.