Source: Billboards Clutter Roadside, Bill Gillette, public domain. A billboard in Denver advertising Old Gold cigarettes in May 1972
Your proverbial corner drugstore is taking a stand.
Calling the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products incompatible with its mission as a provider of healthcare services, CVS Caremark Corporation (NYSE: CVS) announced on September 3 that it would be rebranding as CVS Health in connection with the complete removal of tobacco products from its 7,674 stores  nationwide.
Quoting CVS President and Chief Executive Larry Merlo, The Wall Street Journal reported that CVS may lose some $2 billion in annual sales as a result. While CVS generated $126.8 billion in revenue in 2013, the decision is still a financially significant one for the company.
CVS Health is betting that it can derive some amount of value in excess of the $2 billion it stands to forego. But it remains to be seen how much of an impact CVS’ decision will have.
One thing remains abundantly clear: as of the CDC’s most recent Tobacco Control State Highlights report (2012), the national average adult cigarette smoking rate hovered at a stubborn 21%. 
Here at FindTheBest, we were curious: using data from the 2012 CDC report and CVS itself, was there any overlap between a state’s adult cigarette smoking rate and the number of CVS stores in a given state? Put another way, was CVS in a position to be a major enabler of smoking in America based on the location of its stores and the states with the highest rates of smoking?
Up until now, you may have seen the array of tobacco products conveniently arranged behind the counter at your local CVS store (the irony of placing tobacco products near relatively benign impulse buys like candy and gum is something for another story).
CVS is a national chain with a presence in the vast majority of U.S. states: 44 states and the District of Columbia, to be exact. Smoking rates, like population figures, differ largely by state. And so too does the actual distribution of CVS locations across the nation.
There is an overall downward trend to the graph, suggesting the presence of more CVS stores doesn’t necessarily correlate with a higher smoking rate.
Consider that California, which had a 14% adult cigarette smoking rate in 2012 and contains a little over one-tenth of the entire U.S. population, has a huge number of CVS stores, some 862 locations. That’s 11% of all CVS stores in the nation and about what you’d expect for such a populated state. Contrast that with relatively smoke-heavy Oklahoma, whose 26% adult cigarette smoking rate was above average in 2012 and who is home to 60 CVS stores, just .008% of all CVS locations. With about 3.8 million people to its name (one-tenth the number of people California has), that’s understandable. But what about Wyoming? It’s not very populated, and it has zero CVS locations, but it also recorded a 23% adult cigarette smoking rate in 2012. This differential suggests there are reasons beyond smoking prevalence that dictate where CVS locates its stores.
Moreover, of the five states with the most CVS stores after California, four had smoking rates in 2012 that were below the national average. These included Florida, Texas, New York, and Massachusetts (Pennsylvania had a marginally higher rate, with 22% of adults being cigarette smokers as of the 2012 report). Together with California, these four states contain 40% of all CVS locations in the U.S. but had a combined average smoking rate in 2012 of 17.6%, comfortably below the national average of 21%.
The seven states that had some of the highest rates of adult cigarette smoking as of 2012 (where more than one in five adults smoked cigarettes) are also the ones with relatively fewer CVS locations (in the upper left-hand corner of the scatter plot above 25%). In order, the list includes Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.
Of these states, five contain a total of CVS locations that either falls below, at, or very near 60 stores, which is the median number of all CVS branches (the national average is more like 150 thanks largely to a high number of stores in California, Florida, and Texas). Kentucky, which as of 2012 tied with West Virginia for having the highest adult cigarette smoking rate of 29%, has 66 CVS stores. And in Arkansas, where the adult smoking rate of 27% was the third highest in the country in 2012, there are only two CVS locations.
That’s admittedly a bit simplistic. We wouldn’t expect to see an equal distribution of stores across the nation because there are a number of place-specific factors that go into choosing store locations. It could be that Arkansas, with its two CVS locations and almost three million people, doesn’t have the demand density to justify having more locations.
Rates can be misleading because they’re also relative. While California had the second-lowest adult cigarette smoking rate in 2012, for example, it had more adult smokers than, say, Arkansas. That’s because California has some 35 million more people than Arkansas. But we use rates to indicate prevalence within a certain geographic area.
Although it’s entirely plausible CVS can have a measurable impact on smoking rates over time, the effects this move may have are likely to vary by state. People are going to smoke if they want to—smokers in Arkansas seem to be finding their cigarettes largely without CVS. Even smokers in California won’t have to work very hard. To have a significant impact on smoking rates across the country, it’s going to take a continued, concerted effort from private and public players alike.
But an effort to kill smoking wasn’t really the point of this rebranding, and CVS certainly hasn’t made that explicit claim. For its part, CVS has made a leading, long-run business decision as a national brand. Setting aside that there are still plenty of products CVS sells that might conflict with its rebranding, it has doubled down on being a health care provider—in its own words, a “pharmacy innovation company”—and its image as your local corner drugstore is likely to be bolstered as a result.
As Jonathan Salem Baskin alludes to over at Forbes, CVS may end up being evaluated not on the marketing bang for this one announcement, but rather for its long-term focus on becoming an overall health brand. It has opted out of the sale of tobacco products. Now what?
With the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the rise (see also CVS Health’s CSR information), CVS’ bet that this is the right decision to make may pay off if it can generate revenue—whether through overall goodwill or expanded efforts to provide the resources that help people quit smoking—that both covers its projected $2 billion loss and goes beyond it. In any event, CVS shareholders expect the creation of value. And that’s where things, as they say, get interesting.
 Author calculated total figure. CVS website accessed on September 10, 2014.
 Rates provided by CDC in its most recent Tobacco Control State Highlights report (2012) on a state-by-state basis; author calculated average from these rates.