Is CVS Just ‘Blowing Smoke?’: Evaluating the CVS Decision to Ban Tobacco Products


  • Cheryl B. Ward Middle Tennessee State University
  • Don P. Roy Middle Tennessee State University
  • Diane R. Edmondson Middle Tennessee State University


social responsibility, brand management, social media, marketing strategy, external environment, tobacco


In 2014, Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS, made the decision to remove all tobacco related products at its more than 7,600 locations because it was “the right thing to do.” CVS was the first national retail pharmacy to make this decision and it was estimated that doing so could cost the company $2 billion in lost revenues. Eliminating tobacco did not come without risk in how customers and competitors would respond. One year after this decision was implemented, industry reaction was mixed. How did the CVS decision fit in with current political/legal, social, and competitive trends regarding tobacco use in the United States? Would potential brand image benefits for CVS justify the estimated $2 billion in lost revenues? Did CVS effectively implement contemporary marketing strategies using social media in this major policy change? There were several unresolved issues regarding the long term impact of the CVS decision.