CVS Health makes strides toward a tobacco-free generation

By Barbara Bent

CVS Health announced in March a $50 million, five-year initiative aimed at creating the first tobacco-free generation. Called “Be the First,” the campaign is another way that the national drug store and health care chain is fighting against tobacco use after the company stopped selling tobacco products in all stores in 2014. CVS has two stores in the Rockbridge area: one on Nelson Street in Lexington and the other on East Midland Trail in Buena Vista.

IMG_6596 (1)

CVS Pharmacy in Lexington, Va.

CVS, with more than 9,600 retail stores, lost $2 billion in revenue the first year after it dropped tobacco sales, according to an earnings report, but Joe Goode, director of corporate public relations and communications at CVS Health, said he is confident that eliminating tobacco was the best decision, especially for the greater good.

“Our own actions as a company to eliminate the sale of tobacco products in our retail stores showed that we could have an impact on smoking rates nationally,” said Goode, “but that there was more that we could do.”

The chief medical officer of CVS Health, Dr. Troyen Brennan, said in an article on the company’s website that CVS looks to decrease risk of diseases while supporting a healthy lifestyle. This is the reason the company discontinued its sale of tobacco products nearly two years ago. Goode said the company’s actions demonstrated how the private sector has an impact on public health.

“In the year after removing tobacco products from our stores, we saw a one percent decline in the sale of all cigarettes sold in the markets where we have a major presence,” said Goode. “Our move also motivated hundreds of thousands of smokers to seek out our pharmacists for cessation counseling and therapy.”

CVS already offers tobacco education programs in conjunction with Scholastic Inc. and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, according to a CVS press release. “Be the First” expands those efforts with the goal of decreasing the national youth smoking rate three percent (the current rate is 15.7 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and doubling the number of tobacco-free university and college campuses over the next five years.

The Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative is a partnership with the American Cancer Society to award grants to colleges and universities in 19 states with the greatest need for stronger smoke-free campus policies, Goode said.

Virginia is not on this list yet, but Goode said that CVS hopes to expand the program nationwide. This is one of the many steps toward creating tobacco-free generations to come.

San Francisco and Boston enacted policies in 2010 and 2011 to halt the sale of cigarettes in all stores with retail pharmacies, according to Health Affairs, a scholarly journal. The results showed a 5 to 13 percent decrease in the purchase of tobacco products.

“Given that tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, we knew that the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products was inconsistent with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health,” said Goode.