Business/Finance

Hey Walgreens, stop killing your customers

If you’re a doctor, it might be a bit unseemly to run a funeral home next door. If you’re a teacher, there might be some ethical concerns with peddling crack to your kids during recess.

And if you’re a pharmacy…

Once they were drug stores. Then they became pharmacies. And now? These days they’re in the business of business. The welfare of their customers? Fuck off, socialist.

I stopped into a Walgreens to pick up some batteries. If you’ve been in a modern drug store you know that they have the pharmacy in the back along with all the over-the-counter medications and up front they have all the stuff that – and let’s be honest here – helps fortify the market for prescription and OTC meds. I could go on here about the foodstuffs, for instance, about the many nefarious, even Dante-esque levels of corn syrup, preservative and transfat Hell, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just show you a picture I took while waiting in line.

drugstore

On the left are the smokes. On the right, of course, are the various products for kicking the smoking habit. Apparently the executives at Walgreens are suffering from an acute form of irony deficiency. (There’s probably a drug for that somewhere in the back of the store.)

All I can say is that a company that’s ostensibly in the business of selling health ought to steer clear of products that damage health. Like tobacco, which is responsible for five million deaths per year (a number that’s growing rapidly).

I don’t see this explicitly addressed in the company creed, but hey, they do have a social responsibility section, which explains how much they really really care.

How is it that a society that pays such rabid lip service to morality gladly tolerates, nay subsidizes, such appalling ethical practices on the part of its businesses?

34 replies »

  1. Sam,

    It’s Walgreen’s fiduciary duty to make as much profit for its shareholders as possible and it’s their right to sell cigarettes. Hey, they also sell beer and liquor in many states.. If people are stupid enough to still smoke, then who cares where they get their cigarettes from. The market for cigarettes must exist, or Walgreens, Target, Walmart, Rite Aid, CVS, Duane Reade, and all the other places with pharmacies wouldn’t sell them. Come to think of it, I can’t ever recall seeing a pharmacy outside a hospital that doesn’t sell cigarettes.

    Jeff

  2. There’s a Boston city ordinance (at least according to the sign hanging in my grocery store) that stores in Boston with pharmacies cannot sell tobacco products.

    Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about it being a rule to follow as opposed to something pharmacies should do on their own, but there it is.

  3. I really have no issue with this, since the average age of person who shops at Walgreens is old enough to remember Fred Flinstone whoring Winston’s during his show. Last year a north east grocery chain Wegmans dumped cigarettes, becasue they didn’t want to promote unhealthy living. It was a nice gesture and basically a PR move. They were basically charging way more than other stores, and their sales were low, so the loss of sales wasn’t a huge issue. I also worked for a very large produce store that also sold groceries, beer etc. The #1 stolen product at this store (by customers and employees) were smokes, one day the boss got pissed and stopped selling them. There are still tons of places to buy smokes from now, however with the rising prices and the inevitable loss of more and more companies either refusing to, or being forced to not sell smokes, one can imagine how this will create a huge black market, and from what I’ve heard it already has increased over the last year. It may look bad to some people that Walgreens is selling smokes, but like Jeff stated, I can honestly never recall going into a pharmacy that didn’t sell cigs.

  4. @Konstantin….there is a moral obligation for a company to maximize profits for shareholders….and if I were you I wouldn’t assume I know the law. In Delaware, it is the fiduciary duty of a company chartered in that state to maximize earnings to the shareholder, that’s the law. Guess what, most of the S&P 500 are chartered in Delaware.

    Brian, you’re right, I’m not. If a corporation runs amok, let the free market deal with it. It’s hard enough to earn a profit anyways, and all of this touchy-feeliness just distracts from the main goal of a company which is to make the shareholders money. If a company wants to give to a charity, fine with them. However, some studies have shown that Socially Responsible Investing under performs the S&P. If you want to invest that way, fine, but I’d rather see more money in my pocketbook and I’ll use the money to donate to whatever charity I deem appropriate. The corporation’s duty is to make me money and my duty is to be a socially responsible citizen.

    Interesting article on SRI
    http://gbr.pepperdine.edu/071/sri.html

    Jeff

    • …there is a moral obligation for a company to maximize profits for shareholders…

      The courts have ruled that public companies have an obligation to act in the best interests of their shareholders.

      If you have somehow confused this with a moral obligation then there is precious little that can be done for you.

      For your sake, I’m hoping that you misspoke yourself there.

      As for the courts, well, that’s law. And laws can be changed. Often, laws should be changed…

  5. I’m sure the smokes are there for folks with multiple personalities and schizophrenia. I recall reading a study at some point that nicotine lessened the severity of schizophrenic episodes and helped MP patients manage their personalities better.

    It’s medicine, man. I’m sure Walgreens is just doing the responsible thing and trying to help curb the effects of mental illness. They should be saluted.

  6. Is it any different than they way our government feels about tobacco? They tell you how it is going to kill you, they have banned it in more and more places, yet they profit immensely from the taxes they impose on it.

    Side note: when you look at smoker demographics you see it is a very regressive tax on the poor.

    I’m just saying…

  7. “nicotine lessened the severity of schizophrenic episodes and helped MP patients manage their personalities better.”

    HAHA! So do labotomies. I bet if Walgreens could put them in a box, they’d sell them, too.

  8. I quit smoking on January 22, 2006. By using Commit! I quit Commit six weeks ago. By using the Patch! I’m going to try and quit the patch in four more weeks. Maybe by taking up smoking again. I mean, they’re right there next to the patches.

  9. Well, Jeff, That’s about the biggest crock I’ve ever heard, but at the same time a most convincing argument for getting the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies out of the healthcare “business.” How anybody could create a word salad of fiduciary duty and moral obligation to justify the most immoral and unethical acts is way beyond my understanding, it must take years of “higher education” to learn to do that.

  10. knowdoubt
    Let me guess…..you don’t own any stocks, and you don’t care about profit?

    What is immoral about selling cigarettes and alcohol, both legal things for adults. Last time I checked, it was legal to sell those items with certain restrictions. Speaking of the insurance companies and big pharma…..obviously you don’t have a clue about how the business world runs. Lets get the pharma out of healthcare and go back to rubbing mud on skin disease and other natural cures. Give me a break. Pharmaceutical companies spend a ton on R&D, take on great risks, then get ripped off by generics and overseas bootleggers. They do have a right to earn a profit, and as much profit as the market will allow. Insurance companies also have a right to earn a profit, and I want the company to earn as big of a profit as it can if I’m a shareholder.

    As for “years of education,” my Curriculum Vitae will stand up to anybody’s in this forum. As far as my net profitability and business skills, I’ll lay 5:1 that nobody in this forum even comes close. I’ll lay 100:1 that my Form 1040 Schedule A Line 19 beats any regular contributor to this forum by at least 10 fold, so don’t accuse me of being immoral or unethical or dispassionate towards my fellow man. You can take the high road, as words are cheap, while I pay out the cash to do the good deeds you only talk about.

    Anyways, what’s immoral about making as much profit as possible? Profit is the engine that pays for everything.
    Here’s a youtube clip that’s entertaining and sums up the way things really are.
    Greed is good.

    However, although this video is Hollywood, and the guy was a crook, he was right on.

    Jeff

  11. I wonder if Walgreens’ management has determined which approach maximizes profit — selling smokes or NOT selling them? Or has it merely assumed seliing smokes is the answer?

  12. Sam,
    I guess that there’s little that can be done for me then. Meanwhile I will continue on doing what I’ve always done. Of course y’all always take the high “Moral” ground while we pay the taxes and keep the wheels running.

    Jeff

    Jeff

  13. Oh, I forgot. Only conservatives pay taxes.

    BTW, I was reading your post about us over at your site this morning. Can you tell us a bit more about what it is that you make?

  14. I know it’s 50 years old and the statute of limitations of pop culture has passed, but I’m in the middle of it so don’t spoil it.

  15. Darrell,

    After reading finishing Atlas Shrugged, you might want to consider reading Rand’s excellent “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Her definition of selfish isn’t what you’d think.

    Rand and Nock have provided a blueprint for my life, so all detractors out there might want to read both of them in order to learn what not to do.

    Jeff

  16. Your most high Jeff,
    “I’ll lay 100:1 that my Form 1040 Schedule A Line 19 beats any regular contributor to this forum by at least 10 fold, so don’t accuse me of being immoral or unethical or…”

    I’ll call you and raise you 200:1 that nobody on this forum gives a shit about your line 19..

  17. @knowdoubt

    Of course nobody cares about charity because that should be government’s job and not personal responsibility. The reason nobody on this forum cares about line 19 is because they probably need to leave it blank.

    It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, and in your case, you’re Joe Montana.
    And also, why must you use invective and feel the need to hide behind a pseudonym…that demonstrates to the world that you are a coward.

    Jeff

  18. Very perceptive, Sir, you have nailed me. I have to admit it, I do know fear, some people just scare the shit out of me.

  19. BTW, which Jeff Watson would you be? The one in Seattle or somewhere else. If you would be so kind as to post your address so I could send you mine.

  20. Wow, You’re even a comedian, besides being scary as hell

    I’m the Jeff Watson in New York

    However, it was nice chatting with you, but no more threadfucks. If you want to continue this, bring it over to my blog and keep this place civil.

  21. Yes it was “nice” in a scary sort of way. I’ll get that address right out to you, it’s the knowdoubt in Cairo, Egypt, if it should get lost in the mail. I think I’ll just pass on the invitation, no offense; and last, but not least, thanks for all the lessons/lectures including the one on civility, it’s been real. That’s the real bummer about blogs, any dumb son-of-a-bitch can voice their opinion no matter what their” line 19″ or “curriculum vitae,” there ought to be a law, the stuff we elites have to put up with…, it’s enough to cause me to literally meltdown right in public.

  22. The less you have to do to make money, the more time and energy are left over to complain about divvying it up, I guess. Oh, punchpunch! Clickclick! Buy, sell! One hand pasted against the forehead as the other clicks the mouse. Woe! Slaving over a hot terminal all day just to give it all to those librul welfare queens who don’t know how to ride markets for a living! Those bastards just want something for nothing!

  23. suffering from an acute form of irony deficiency. (There’s probably a drug for that somewhere in the back of the store.)

    I’ve met many people with irony deficiency. While there may not be a drug in Walgreen’s that can help them, other, less legal drugs might.

  24. Jeff, Selling cigarettes and alcohol is like being a drug dealer, but legal. It’s still immoral regardless of the legality (with your “legal things for adults” claim). Also your “logic” on making profits isn’t very sound. By using that “logic” then they should sell everything they currently don’t sell in order to make more profits like live pets, firearms, freshly cooked foods, industrial equipment, etc. The fact is their main purpose is being a drug store/pharmacy so it’s not like if they stopped selling cigarettes and alcohol they would suddenly go out of business. Also their whole “Happy and Healthy” motto they use gets contradicted with their selling of such products. CVS pharmacy stopped selling tobacco products years ago and they are still doing fine.

    They do have a right to earn a profit, but that doesn’t mean they have to sell EVERYTHING and also doesn’t mean they should sell out their companies apparent values in order to profit off addicted people…

    “Pharmaceutical companies spend a ton on R&D, take on great risks, then get ripped off by generic”
    They don’t get ripped off by generics. The problem is that greedy pharmaceutical companies typically insanely overcharge people for medications people desperately need (again immoral….), so other companies come along and make generics so those people can afford the medications they need. Maybe if the pharmaceutical companies priced them in a more reasonable range then they wouldn’t get “ripped off by generics.”

    “It’s Walgreen’s fiduciary duty to make as much profit for its shareholders as possible and it’s their right to sell cigarettes.”
    Regardless of them selling cigarettes they can still make a profit. They don’t need to sell everything under the sun in order to ” make as much profit for its shareholders.” It may be their “right” to sell cigarettes, but they also have the right to NOT sell cigarettes as well.

    “Anyways, what’s immoral about making as much profit as possible? Profit is the engine that pays for everything.”
    Making profit is fine until it means negatively taking advantage of other people, which includes supporting nasty addictions.
    Remember the United State Laissez faire days of the early 1900’s?
    Your Logic: They were only “trying to make a profit.” So what they used child labor, had awful working conditions, extremely long working hours, paid very poorly, did considerable harm to the environment, etc. etc.

    “As for “years of education,” my Curriculum Vitae will stand up to anybody’s in this forum. As far as my net profitability and business skills, I’ll lay 5:1 that nobody in this forum even comes close. I’ll lay 100:1 that my Form 1040 Schedule A Line 19 beats any regular contributor to this forum by at least 10 fold, so don’t accuse me of being immoral or unethical or dispassionate towards my fellow man. You can take the high road, as words are cheap, while I pay out the cash to do the good deeds you only talk about.”
    Considering your highly flawed arguments, I’d doubt you are as educated as you claim no matter how hard you try to state so. Regardless, being “highly educated” doesn’t make your a moral person who cares about your fellow man.

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