NEW TOBACCO POLICY: WHAT’S REALLY NEW? CVS’ Spiritual Approach to Policy Making

John McAndrew and Joseph Palacios

CVS Caremark has announced that, beginning in October 2014, their retail outlets will no longer sell tobacco products. At Sensible Spirituality Associates, we have been examining how individuals and organizations are addressing the challenges of an ever more diverse workforce and consumer base. These cultural changes have had a profound impact on our sense of shared values, principles and practices.

The Store. CVS was founded in 1963 as the ‘Consumer Value Store’, later refined by former CEO Tom Ryan as the ‘Customer, Value, and Service’ store. In 2007 CVS acquired Caremark and assumed, as CVS Caremark, a position as a major national pharmacy and healthcare business.

Tobacco. Ever since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Smoking and Health report, American business has engaged in a lengthy, uneasy and costly examination of conscience about tobacco. CVS has now taken a leadership role in articulating a shift in corporate values. This policy change will affect not only the company’s bottom line, but also what we look to as the ‘soul’ of the organization.

The Shift. As Spiritual Care Consultants our assessment of this move by CVS points to a possible reimagining of the ideals of the ‘Customer Value Service’ store. Today’s customer expects a more sophisticated and personal experience while shopping. In older business models, value signified something inexpensive or a bargain. Today’s customer recognizes value in the quality, origin and ecology of products and services, as well as their price. CVS appears to be refining their concept of service to acknowledge changing cultural and moral values regarding tobacco. They won’t sell tobacco because they now see themselves as a pro-active healthcare provider, complete with a new understanding of ‘Customer, Value, and Service’.

A more sensible approach— and yes, spiritual.  Much has been written by business analysts about the increasing importance of human capital, holistic care, ‘spirituality in the workplace’, and ‘doing well by doing good’. We believe that the kind of assessment, reflection, and dialogue that led to this decision by CVS can rightly be called a sensible, spiritual approach. CEO Larry Merlo stated, “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting”, highlighting “the paradox we faced as an organization.” Grappling with paradox exemplifies an engaged, sensible spirituality in the workplace.

CVS’ bold decision can serve as a model for corporate decision-makers willing to engage the many paradoxes of personal and corporate life. An integrative spiritual approach is good for business. 

John P. McAndrew and Joseph Palacios are Principals of Sensible Spirituality Associates based in Palm Springs, CA. They can be contacted at info@sensiblespirituality.org.