5 Years Since CVS Health Quit Big Tobacco: Healthier Customers, Stronger Brand and Financial Growth

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Article Takeaways:

  • The effect of putting your consumers’ health first can have on your bottom line
  • How turning social advocacy can lead to competitive advantage
  • Information on the Quit Big Tobacco Pledge

It’s been more than five years since we kicked the habit and took tobacco out of every CVS Pharmacy across the country. The attention that decision garnered across the consumer and healthcare landscape continues to resonate today. The decision also remains a source of great pride among all of our colleagues and a hallmark of our company’s purpose of helping people on their path to better health. And, while going tobacco-free was the right decision for our brand, our business, and our customers’ health, it has also delivered significant financial growth.

Our experience making purpose-driven decisions illustrates how we can turn social advocacy into a competitive advantage. It helps engage our colleagues, build brand preference and influence the way our customers think about their own health – all while helping our company grow in the health care space and making a significant impact on public health.

According to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, smokers purchased nearly 100 million fewer packs of cigarettes in states where a CVS Pharmacy had a significant presence. The study also found that people who purchased cigarettes exclusively at a CVS Pharmacy were 38% more likely to stop buying cigarettes and those who purchased three or more packs per visit were more than twice as likely to stop buying cigarettes altogether.

We are enormously proud of the impact of that decision, and it encouraged us to go farther. Earlier this year, we were pleased to become the first major corporate brand to join Vital Strategies’ Quit Big Tobacco campaign, pledging not to work with advertising or public relations agencies who work with tobacco and e-cigarette companies.

The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year on cigarette and e-cigarette marketing, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Marketing tactics, such as kid-friendly flavors and promotion by social media influencers, have contributed to the nearly 80% rise in vaping among U.S. high school students between 2017 and 2018.

Our Quit Big Tobacco pledge is aimed at depriving the tobacco industry of the creative talent it needs to target young people and get them hooked. Just as our decision to end tobacco sales resonated across the health care industry, our decision to Quit Big Tobacco has resonated across the advertising industry. To date, the Quit Big Tobacco coalition has grown to more than 300 pledgers, including leaders like Crispin Porter Bogusky, Truth Initiative, MDC Partners, Edelman, GSD&M and many more.

We know that to tackle the youth smoking epidemic, we need to work with others to increase our impact. We have partnered with best-in-class organizations like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Truth Initiative and DoSomething.org to reach young people to help them understand the dangers of smoking and the myths around vaping and to provide them with healthy behavior skills.

In 2016 we launched Be the First, a five-year, $50 million initiative to help create the first tobacco-free generation. This work has helped nearly 200 college and university campuses on their journey to go tobacco-free delivered tobacco education to millions of young people and is combating the emerging epidemic of youth vaping with an aggressive $10 million campaign.

According to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, there are 3.6 million middle and high school students who are current e-cigarette users, a dramatic increase from the more than 1.5 million students the previous year. This represents a 78% increase among high school students and a 48% increase among middle school students. Research shows young people who vape are four times more likely to begin smoking cigarettes in the future, according to Truth Initiative.

The CVS Health Foundation is investing in a multi-year, multi-million-dollar collaboration with Discovery Education to create and distribute standards-aligned digital curriculum resources and engaging content to help middle and high school students learn about the risks of e-cigarette use.

In addition, a new two-year, $2 million grant will be used to support a first-of-its-kind quit vaping program, developed by Truth Initiative to help teens and young adults break free from e-cigarettes. Called #ThisIsQuitting and part of the truth campaign, the text message program offers young people a free, confidential and anonymous way to access behavioral and peer-to-peer social support to quit vaping.

The integration of purpose and profit aligns incentives, enabling companies to do what is right for all their stakeholders. By demonstrating our commitment to our purpose, standing up against big tobacco has become a key driver for our brand and business.

Making the commitment to Quit Big Tobacco is a clear and easy decision. We encourage all companies to demonstrate their commitment to the health of their employees, customers, and society by joining us.

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