CVS’s shift may impact food

by Keith Nunes
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KANSAS CITY — Something interesting happened when the drug store chain CVS Caremark announced it would remove all tobacco products from its stores by October 2014. Almost immediately, reporters began asking if the chain planned to remove sugary snacks and beverages as well as foods high in sodium content.

Fortunately, Larry J. Merlo, the president and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark, had an answer to the query.

“… When you look at some of those other products, it’s important to differentiate a bar of chocolate from a pack of cigarettes,” he told Audie Cornish, a host with the radio show All Things Considered on National Public Radio. “And those products, whether you’re talking about a candy bar or a bag of chips, you know, in occasional use, taken in moderation, a dietitian would tell you that’s OK.

“The same cannot be said about a pack of cigarettes. There, you know, is nothing safe about any amount of use of tobacco. And I think that’s what makes those products different and tobacco continues to be a leading cause of illness and death in the country and we think that, you know, there's more that we can do as a healthcare company.”

It is stunning that food and beverages perceived as unhealthy are so easily lumped into the same public health category as tobacco. It is not a new phenomenon, but one the industry must continue to watch closely.

Health and wellness is a powerful trend. It has reshaped the food and beverage industry in many ways, most notably in product development and product formulation, and it is having similar effects in other industries. CVS Caremark will not be the only retail chain to remove tobacco and it is not too farfetched to foresee another chain trying to differentiate itself by removing other products perceived as unhealthy.

Obesity is an issue to be reckoned with, but food is not the sole contributor to an unhealthy lifestyle. It is a complicated issue that features no easy solutions.

Mr. Merlo is spot on in his assertion about moderation and it is something that bears repeating. Clearly more needs to be done in an effort to differentiate some food and beverage products from tobacco products.
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