CVS’ Marketing Chief Says Phasing Out Tobacco ‘Helped Prove the Company’s Purpose’

Norman de Greve talks wellness

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When Norman de Greve joined CVS Health, the company's plans to phase out tobacco, effectively losing $2 billion in annual revenue to become a major player in the health care field, were already rolling. That, of course, was part of the reason he wanted to join. For de Greve, tobacco hits home: He lost his father to lung cancer when he was just 7 years old. 

Now, two-and-a-half years later, CVS Health has helped drop tobacco sales by one percent across all retailers and proved its purpose of "helping people on their path to better health," de Greve told attendees, while speaking at the Masters of Marketing Conference in Orlando today.

Plus, 500,000 consumers visited the section of the company's site devoted to quitting smoking and 260,000 people sought help from counselors at CVS.

The move also scored 100 million media impressions for CVS Health and revamped the way people see the brand. In 2015, 40 percent more influencers saw the brand as impactful in improving health, versus 2014. 

"Selling cigarettes and antibiotics in the same store is just wrong," said de Greve. "Two-and-a-half-years later and we're still the only pharmacy not selling tobacco. Rite Aid, it's your move."

But even with its successful tobacco exit (when asked if there was blowback from the tobacco lobby de Greve couldn't recall any) that doesn't mean CVS is taking aim at alcohol or sugar.

"Tobacco is unique, it is universally bad," said de Greve. "For us, there likely will not be another tobacco-like thing. It's just not going to happen." 

Still, the company is "looking to [shelve] healthier options," from brands like Chobani, Annie's, Amy's, as well as some almond milk, noted de Greve.  

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.