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Thank you, CVS

February 9, 2014

Patrick Spain

My mother and father both died of diseases that were caused by smoking tobacco.

One of the most vivid memories of my youth was being sent to Peoples Drug in Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s to buy cigarettes for my mother. I did not need a note. I did not need to prove my age. I just needed the 40 cents or so that a pack of cigarettes cost. Even then I was aghast that a 10-year-old kid could walk into a drug store and buy cigarettes.

Fifty years later the company that bought Peoples Drug "“ CVS "“ has voluntarily decided to give up $2 billion of revenue by ceasing the sales of tobacco products later this year. In the company's own words, "The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose "“ helping people on their path to better health."

Let me just say, "Thank you, CVS." You will be saving tens of thousands of lives going forward. You have done a wonderful thing.

But lest you think this is just the maudlin thank you of one of the millions affected by the scourge of tobacco, let me also congratulate CVS on making a completely brilliant business decision. As the health industry becomes more consumer-driven, trusted consumer brands will prove to be an invaluable asset. There are scant few now. Except for Kaiser Permanente, does anyone trust their healthcare insurance carrier? Very few of us.

Healthcare providers are also waking up to the importance of brand. My local hospital has paid what can only be called a franchise fee to affiliate with the Mayo Clinic. The hospital at which my business partner practices has "affiliated" with MD Anderson. These may be the two most powerful and trusted brands in healthcare provider services. Brand matters because it equals trust.

Interbrand does an annual survey around brand equity. In retail, CVS has ranked #5 for several years in a row, the highest of the drug store chains. I suspect it will rise in the next survey. While all companies are about making money, it's how you do it and how you balance that goal against the larger societal concerns of that company's customers. I think CVS, by banning the sale of tobacco, has gotten an upper hand in the area of trust. And I can prove it.

Our family has been a long-time customer of one of CVS's competitors (and likely will continue to be to a material degree). However, I have decided to change my habit of going to the competitor for most prescriptions and for the first time will be filling a new prescription at CVS.

Thank you, CVS.

Originally published Feb 9, 2014 12:50:00 PM.