CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) made headlines in 2014 when it took the then-shocking step of eliminating all tobacco products from its stores.
At the time, CEO Larry Merlo called the move "simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company," adding that "the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health." Those were bold statements, and CVS not only went through with getting rid of tobacco, it has aggressively funded anti-smoking efforts.
Now, more than two years after tobacco was last sold in its stores, the company says it plans to fund $10 million in new and expanded programs as part of an effort to create the first tobacco-free generation. The money will support the second year of "Be The First," CVS' five year, $50 million commitment to getting young people to stop (or never start) smoking.
"Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, yet 2,100 youth and young adults still become daily cigarette smokers," said CVS Chief Medical Officer Troyen Brennan in a press release. "CVS Health recognizes that by bringing together experts in the public health community and aggressively implementing strategies to reduce tobacco use, we have the opportunity to deliver the first tobacco-free generation."
What is CVS doing?
The chain not only sacrificed sales when it dropped tobacco, it has also made a real commitment to ending smoking, specifically among young people. Be the First offers "anti-smoking education, tobacco-control advocacy, and healthy behavior programming," according to the company. The program, which was launched in March 2016, targets the 3 million elementary school children in the U.S. who "without early tobacco education, may become future tobacco users" as well as adult smokers who may expose children to tobacco use. The program has reached nearly 5 million young people, and it has helped 20 colleges and universities work toward becoming 100% smoke-and tobacco-free.
"In the year since we introduced Be The First, we've seen very good progress, but we know there is much more to be done in schools, on college campuses and in our communities," said CVS Health Foundation President Eileen Howard Boone. "We're pleased to sustain this momentum by expanding partnerships with best-in-class organizations and identifying new partners that will bring the expertise needed to move us one step closer to the first tobacco-free generation."
This is about more than business
Dropping tobacco was not a purely altruistic decision for CVS. Selling cigarettes clashed with the image it was trying to create as a company that cares about people's health, and getting out of the business of profiting from a product that causes disease was good public relations.
Still, CVS could have simply done that. It didn't have to take up ending smoking among young people as a cause, nor did it have to put up $50 million to do it. However, in this is a case, doing the right thing is also the correct thing for the business. The positive public relations will be worth far more to the company than the money it's spending.
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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned.