Does CVS Move Show Feds Can Get Rid of Tobacco Without Even Outlawing It?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday the launch of “The Real Cost” campaign, an anti-tobacco initiative the agency says will target "at-risk youth."

“The Real Cost” campaign is the FDA’s first of several ad campaigns exerting the agency's power to regulate tobacco since President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law in 2009. The $115 million ad buy is scheduled for nationwide release on February 12 in more than 200 markets in the United States. 

Following the FDA's launch, CVS Caremark Corporation announced yesterday that all 7,600 nationwide stores are to phase out cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco completely by October 1, forfeiting an estimated $2 billion in revenue. Both the President and the First Lady applauded the company’s plan. “Today’s decision will help advance my Administration’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related deaths, caner, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs,” the President said. American citizens must feel lucky to have a leader so concerned about their wellbeing (despite the most recent evidence that Obamacare is bad for your health.) 

As a corporation focused on providing health care, CVS is making a business and branding choice in banning tobacco products. The more concerning issue is the government’s interest in universal labeling of what is good and what is bad. It is no coincidence that the company's announcement comes the day after the FDA's newest crusade to end tobacco use. This is the perfect example of the "soft paternalism" some of the most zealous nanny staters claim is the best way to pursue their agenda. Did the FDA make selling tobacco illegal this week? No. But did their renewed effort to excise an entire industry from the economy put retailers that sell its products on high alert? You bet.

What's next for companies fearing the heavy hand of government regulation? We've already seen policymakers pursue bans on sweets, soda, high-fat foods. CVS is leaving these items on its shelves (for now) but is it only a matter of time until other businesses make the calculation that a war against government is not worth the revenue lost from discontinuing sales of certain products? The CVS decision is just one case in which a company made a rational decision to avoid what is looking like an all-but-inevitable confrontation with government in the future.

The government’s desire to depict certain products as villainous can have a snowball effect. Once the government starts categorizing products the way they please, companies will have little choice but to comply.

TAGS: Nanny State, issues

blog comments powered by Disqus