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Smoke & Mirrors

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CVS's decision to stop selling tobacco products reflects well on them, but what will it reveal about ourselves?

The decision of CVS to voluntarily forgo the sales -- and profits associated with selling a legal product (tobacco) that has millions of customers has justifiably gotten a great deal of attention. Public health advocates laud the move, which follows other companies' decisions (such as Target). In the meantime, of course, there may be a backlash from the millions of American tobacco users who may feel that this is a case of a company bowing to pressure from advocates and abandoning them.

Whenever a business puts its values ahead of 'easy' profits -- such as when companies decline to open on Sunday or close for holidays -- it takes a risk. According to news stories CVS expects to lose in the neighborhood $2 billion in annual sales this year. Of course, CVS may be counting on increased customer loyalty and shopping by those who wish to reward this decision with their wallets. It is not enough to "like" a Facebook page, tweet your admiration or tell people how much you like what they're doing. The real and ultimately the only 'test' will be, will consumers favor those establishments that match their values? Or will the more short-term value drivers (convenience and cost) drive most decisions?

Again we are reminded that each purchasing decision is a vote for the kind of future we want. And we each, as shoppers, have the power to change the future by allowing our values to guide our purchasing decisions whether our values center around tobacco, alcohol, guns, domestic vs. imported goods, gay rights, child labor, and a host of other issues.

Rather than hiding, CVS publicly stood up and declared its decision for the world to see. The company should be respected for being transparent. Whether or not they will be rewarded for the decision remains to be seen.