Friday, February 07, 2014

Why I'm a fan of CVS today

(Reuters) - CVS Caremark Corp will stop selling tobacco products at its 7,600 stores by October 1, the company said on Wednesday, making it the first national drugstore chain in the United States to take cigarettes off the shelves.

A big round of applause for CVS, sacrificing short-term profits not only to reinforce its brand as a health-care provider, but to help their customers by adopting the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

Yes, they still sell junk food and lottery tickets and, in some states, alcohol. Yes, smokers can still go to a hundred other places to buy cigarettes. But as a practicing ex-smoker*, I can tell you that these things do make a difference.

The people this will help the most are those trying to quit. Every day, quitters-in-progress go into a store to buy cold medicine or milk or baby food or sunscreen or a million other things we stop by places like CVS for. They're not thinking of smoking; they're thinking what they're going to make for dinner, or which Valentine's card to buy for their significant other.

Then they go to check out, still ruminating on Things That Aren't Cigarettes. They get out their wallets or open their purses. While the cashier rings up their stuff, the quitter-in-progress lets their gaze wander, as gazes do.

And there, behind the cashier, is a wall of temptation. A wall of the thing that could make them feel, for 7-8 minutes, relaxed and alive and at peace. A wall of the thing that wants to kill them.

Maybe they resist, maybe they don't. But studies have shown that our ability to resist temptation is a depletable resource. ("Many who resist unhealthy food and fruitless websurfng all day, and who might prefer to go to bed early after a light dinner, find themselves staying up late to watch TV while gorging on junk food.") It's why diets based on giving up foods we enjoy are so hard to sustain.

Basically, resisting temptation doesn't make you stronger; it makes you weaker. Avoiding temptation is much more effective. It's why I've never watched a single episode of Mad Men and never will (I've been warned it will make me want to smoke again, even after 20 years).

So yeah, CVS isn't solving every public-health problem by ceasing to sell cigarettes. But they're making quitters' and ex-smokers' lives a lot more livable. And for that, I applaud them.

*I came up with the phrase "practicing ex-smoker" because plain old "ex-smoker" feels overconfident**. As we learned from the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, vigilance is key with addiction.

**(Footnote to a footnote--I think that's a first!) Also, when I was quitting, telling myself I could NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER have another cigarette just made me panic and want them even more. It worked better to take it one day at a time. It still does.

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