CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS) announced yesterday that it would stop selling all tobacco products by October of this year. My immediate thought was that this is the kind of thing that should be applauded loudly. It's so easy to denounce businesses when we see them doing something that we don't like. Just ask Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX), or A&E [jointly owned by Hearst Corporation and The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS)]. I'm not arguing that we should not speak out or take a stand against certain things. But I think it's interesting that, for some reason, it's tough for us to muster an equal but opposite reaction when a company or individual does something that is worthy of praise.
I don't consider myself an anti-tobacco crusader. However, I think it's clear that the product is addictive and that it harms people. Anyone trying to argue differently is really stretching, in my opinion. I tend to think Christians should avoid investing in tobacco companies. I run a screening, scoring, and ranking process which often ranks tobacco companies right at the top of my list. If all I cared about were the economics of investments, I would probably be recommending tobacco company stocks left and right. When a product is so addictive that people will continue not only to buy it, but pay pretty much whatever price you put on it, through good economic times and bad, in spite of the fact that the product is literally killing them, you can be sure that the economics are favorable to investors. However, I believe that we should always put principle before profit. I tend to think we should avoid investments in businesses that exist only to produce a product that brings wide scale harm to others.
However, not every Christian agrees with my assessment of tobacco companies as investments. Further, I don't espouse legalism in regard to selecting/avoiding investments. I think Christians and other investors should follow their conscience, keeping in mind that what we do affects others. So, what is this article all about?
It's about recognizing a business that has chosen to put principle before profit. It's about realizing that Titus 3:1-8 instructs us on how we are to relate to secular society (as pointed out in the linked article by Dave Bruskas). It's about being reminded that we are to "be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." It's about remembering that "we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. " It's about realizing that we would do well to focus our energy according to this instruction: "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things," (Phil. 4:8). If we redirect all of that energy and effort away from the things that are wrong, and focus instead on doing good, we may actually start to make a difference in the world.
I applaud CVS for making this decision. Focusing on whether or not we agree with the practice of selling tobacco misses the crux of the issue. Rather, the main point here is that CVS Caremark has decided that the health of their fellow man is more important than money. They decided that selling tobacco was not in keeping with their mission of "helping people on their path to better health." A critical spirit might tell us that there is some ulterior motive behind this action. However, they are directly giving up $2 billion in annual tobacco sales. Further, they run the risk that tobacco users will simply choose another store for all of their shopping, because they don't want to stop twice. And, what's the upside... that socially conscious shoppers will shop there a little bit more over the next week before forgetting this completely? Any argument about ulterior motives is not only incorrect, but also indicative of a cynical, critical, judgmental, destructive way of looking at the world and our fellow man. Instead, we should acknowledge that this decision is commendable, honorable, worthy of praise... and maybe a quick stop on the way home today.
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At the time of publication, the author does not hold any positions in any of the securities mentioned and has no plans to initiate positions in those securities within the next 72 hours. The views expressed are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Wisdom’s Reward, LLC.