CVS Drops Tobacco, Demonstrates Purposeful Leadership

CVS/Caremark announced that it will stop selling tobacco products. According to Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS:

We have about 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners helping patients manage chronic problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are linked to smoking. We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.

My take: Given the horrible affects of tobacco (I lost my sister, an active smoker, to cancer over 15 years ago), there’s certainly commentary to be made about how this affects the public at large. But that’s not what I want to discuss. Instead, I applaud CVS for behaving consistently with what we call Purposeful Leadership, which is one of Temkin Group’s four customer experience core competencies.

We describe Purposeful Leadership as operating consistently with a clear set of values. In a large organization, leaders influence only a very, very small portion of the day-to-day decisions of their employees. That’s why values are so important, they keep the myriad of things that people do every day collectively heading in the same direction.

While it’s easy to write up something you call values or even announce them at a company meeting, the measure of true values is that they jibe with the decisions that executives make. If leaders aren’t willing to forego short-term profits to advance their values, then they aren’t really values; they’re just bumper stickers. That’s why our last law of customer experience is simply, You can’t fake it.

Here’s how the CVS/Caremark’s About Us page describes its collection of operations: “Our businesses help people on their path to better health.” Selling products like tobacco that are known to have negative health effects is not consistent with that statement. Removing those products from CVS shelves make it much more believable, and an act this is consistent with Purposeful Leadership.

The bottom line: Congratulations to Merlo and the rest of CVS/Caremark leadership for being purposeful.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

2 thoughts on “CVS Drops Tobacco, Demonstrates Purposeful Leadership”

  1. Bruce,
    I’m an avid reader of yours and really appreciate the way you share information and make it relevant to a broad audience.
    On this one though, I’m shaking my head a little bit… While I can appreciate the corporate decision by CVS to align their leadership philosophy and business practices, I do not understand the focus on tobacco alone. CVS also sells junk food, processed food, and various alcoholic beverages, in addition to cigarettes – all of which can “contribute to negative health effects”. Are they going to stop selling Ruffles, ice cream and beer too?

    Just my $.02.

    Thanks for listening!

    Lisette Reed
    Manager, Customer Experience & Voice of the Customer (VoC)
    Corporate Marketing – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
    Ofc: 313.448.0017 | Cell: 313.949.1911

    Top 5 Strengths: Learner, Achiever, Individualization, Responsibility, Activator

  2. I too applaud CVS. This news came at a rather poignant time for me. My father died of lung cancer on Tuesday, February 4. I like to think that maybe this news was a little push from him from above to help others suffering to quit smoking. He was always giving to others and I like to think that this announcement from CVS was one last gift from him to humanity. Way to go dad! As far as the other comment. Can we just celebrate the fact that this is a small step in the right direction. Eventually I think we will have more companies stepping up to sell less junk food and other products bad for our health. But I too celebrate that CVS had the courage to go out on a limb, turn down billions of dollars and take one step forward towards promoting a health conscious mission statement.
    Thank you CVS, you’ve earned a loyal customer for life.

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