Unfortunately, nicotine addiction knows no political affiliation. I can report anecdotally that I am acquainted with as many liberal, free-thinking chain-smokers as those whose right-wing beliefs tend to set my teeth on edge. Be that as it may, the image of the big plantation tobacco farmer is inextricably linked to the Republican Party, and as long ago as 1998, GOP leadership began to understand that the inflow of lobbyist funds was not worth the long-term PR hassle.
During the month of March, 16 years ago, Washington Post writers Ceci Connelly and John Mintz published a piece entitled, For Big Tobacco, a Future Without GOP Support. This trip through 20th Century history is fascinating for many reasons, not the least because former House Speaker-turned-CNN Crossfire host Newt Gingrich seemed to declare the end of an era. While ironically hitching a ride to California aboard a Big Tobacco plane, Gingrich is quoted putting his benefactors on notice:
“‘You guys have screwed us…The Republican Party has been saddled with tobacco.’
This time, said Gingrich, he wouldn’t allow President Clinton to demagogue Republicans on the tobacco issue in the same way he had outmaneuvered GOP leaders on the budget in 1995.
‘I will not let Bill Clinton get to the left of me on this,’ he said.”
When CVS/Caremark announced its decision this week to cease the sale of tobacco products in its retail stores by October 1, it wasn’t the liberal media that seized on a perceived opportunity to protect donor dollars while creating another tenuous rebuke of Obamacare. I am fairly certain at this point that the GOP platform consists of blaming every conceivable worldly ill on health care reform. Shaun White withdraws from the slopestyle snowboarding competition at the Sochi Olympic games? Thanks faulty exchange rollout!
Though the tactics may have changed, conservative media figures have wasted little time spin doctoring, in sort of a shadow defense of the tobacco lobby. USAToday Contributor Katrina Trinko (also Managing Editor of Heritage Foundation publication, The Foundry) writes with evidence in hand (none) that the chain’s decision will have no impact upon the nation’s smoking patterns. She observes, “There’s no doubt that cigarettes are unhealthy — and that second-hand smoke has exposed non-smokers to health risks as well. But CVS’ decision doesn’t affect second-hand smoke, and won’t necessarily make a steep dent in overall smoking rates. Other chains, such as Target, haven’t sold cigarettes in years.”
So really then, CVS, why bother?
And in what I’m sure is 100 percent coincidence, wouldn’t you know it, The Foundry (yes!) ran its own piece attempting to tie CVS’ business decision with the desire of conservative-run corporations to exclude female employees from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate. Writer Amy Payne offers:
“Businesses want to provide products and services that customers want to buy. If they don’t, they go out of business. But CVS’s move to change the products it offers shows that plenty of business leaders consider more than just the bottom line—they consider the values they want their companies to reflect. This is another freedom they should enjoy in America—though it has recently been denied to businesses like Hobby Lobby that are trying to defend their right to do business in accordance with their values.”
Yes, the obvious connection between CVS’s decision to adhere to carefully cultivated healthy brand standards, versus Hobby Lobby’s assertion of religious freedom rights equal to American citizens. I don’t know how we missed it! White males seeking to deny female employees a full range of reproductive health options is exactly the same as a national chain deciding to discontinue harmful products that a customer can just go to another store to obtain.
So if you ask conservative media, CVS’s landmark decision is either a pointless public health move or an assertion of corporate entitlement that undercuts Obamacare. Sometimes you just have to step back and admire the other side’s contortionary skill.