Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Cigarette companies’ final days, high-speed trading, and how rich is Ringo?

Steven Brill
Feb 18, 2014 16:16 UTC

1. Cigarette companies’ final days:

This article last week from the Associated Press, “U.S. health experts predict…a cigarette-free America,” highlighted the release of a 900-page report on smoking from the U.S. surgeon general. “Though the goal of a cigarette-free America has long seemed like a pipe dream,” the AP noted, “public-health leaders have started throwing around phrases like ‘endgame’ and ‘tobacco-free generation.’”

Smoking has declined significantly in the United States in the five decades since the surgeon general’s first report pinpointing the dangers of cigarettes. It is still a multibillion-dollar industry, however, that sells more than 300 billion cigarettes a year here.

Yet smoking rates continue to decline as the evidence of tobacco’s lethal effects becomes accepted wisdom. At the same time, venues forbidding smoking have become nearly universal, even as the sale of smoking products becomes more constricted. CVS’s decision two weeks ago to stop selling tobacco is the latest example. (I wrote about that here.) Several states are now considering raising the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21.

So, how is the industry fighting — or preparing for — that endgame?

How quickly are the big three players — Philip Morris, Reynolds American, and Lorillard — diversifying by betting on e-cigarettes? And what are the real prospects for those products, as well as the related health issues?

Are the big tobacco companies diversifying completely into other industries?

Are they having better luck with the core product abroad? If so, how and why?

The potentially juiciest part of the story might be that they are moving to diversify into another smoking product that’s been in the news a lot lately: marijuana. Tobacco companies going into pot (presaged by the Showtime series Weeds) seems a logical move, but not one that these Fortune 500 companies would be talking about much because pot is still illegal in most of the country.

CVS and the doctoring business, Sochi consequences, and getting Cohen’s side of the story

Steven Brill
Feb 11, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. How far can CVS and other pharmacy chains get into the doctoring business?

In announcing Wednesday that CVS Caremark would stop selling tobacco, chief executive officer Larry Merlo said selling cigarettes would be, according to a company press release, “inconsistent with our purpose.” He explained, “As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners.”

I’d like to know more about what Merlo has in mind vis a vis that “expanded role in providing health care.”

Drugstore chains like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens already offer flu shots. How is that regulated? Is it allowed in all states? Do licensed nurses have to provide them? Did doctors’ groups or health clinics lobby against it?

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