Trends in Current Cigarette Smoking Among High School Students and Adults, United States, 1965–2011

CVS, one of America’s largest pharmacy chains, announced it will soon stop selling tobacco products at its over 7,600 locations. By October 1st all the tobacco products should be phased out. This makes CVS the first big pharmacy chain to make this public health move.

CVS claims to have made this decision to “in support of the health and well-being of its patients and customers.” Smoking is the leading cause of premature death in this country.

I don’t think simply having tobacco for sale in a few thousand less stores in the county will directly have a huge impact. It will make it slightly less convenient to buy cigarettes but I doubt that alone will stop people.

The real impact will come from the broader cultural signal this move sends. This helps reinforce the message that tobacco is unhealthy and socially undesirable. A combination of taxes, public health campaigns, regulations, and private sector changes has been incredibly effective at reducing tobacco use rates in this country.

The example of tobacco is proof that criminalization isn’t the only way — or even the most effective way — for government and society to signal disapproval of certain behaviors. Something can be legal and still be discouraged.