CVS directs initiative combating youth smoking toward teen e-cigarette use

CVS Health and its foundation are directing their focus on cutting teen tobacco smoking toward a key driver of the worsening problem: e-cigarettes.

Already, CVS was in the midst of a five-year, $50 million initiative called "Be the First" in an effort to be the nation's first tobacco-free generation. Monday, the retailer announced it—along with the Aetna Foundation—will give more than $10 million to organizations around the country to support prevention and education programs with a particular focus on vaping.

“The spread of e-cigarette use among youth jeopardizes the progress made in reducing smoking over the last two decades,” said Troyen Brennan, M.D., chief medical officer for CVS Health, in a statement.  “By collaborating with experts and aggressively investing in innovative strategies, we believe that we can help reverse this disturbing trend.”

RELATED: CVS launches $50M initiative to stop youth smoking

The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found 3.6 million middle and high school students indicated they were current e-cigarette users. That was more than double the total number from the previous year. It represented a 78% increase among high school students and 50% increase among middle school students. 

The problem was concerning enough for former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to declare a youth vaping crisis when he led the agency. "All the dramatic gains we've made in reducing smoking rates in this country, particularly among young people, will be reversed as a result of these products," he warned during an event in March.

In 2014, CVS announced it would no longer sell tobacco products in its stores as its sought to ramp up its role in the U.S. healthcare marketplace. In 2018, CVS completed a $69 billion acquisition of insurance giant Aetna.  Both companies have said the deal will generate more than $750 million in savings in the first two years by reducing medical costs, closing gaps of care, optimizing sites of care and providing localized services for patients with high-cost chronic conditions. 

Among the projects aimed at reducing teen smoking that will receive grant funding this year: 

  • The CVS Health Foundation is investing in a multiyear, multimillion dollar collaboration with Discovery Education to create and distribute education materials to help middle and high school students learn about the risks of e-cigarette use. The resources will be available at no cost to every school district in the U.S.
  • A new two-year, $2 million grant will support a quit-vaping program, developed by Truth Initiative, in the form of free behavioral and peer-to-peer social support to teens and young adults. Called #ThisIsQuitting, the text message program accessed by texting “QUIT” to 706-222-QUIT or by visiting
  • CVS Health and its foundation will support classroom-based programs including offering a new $100,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation to SHAPE America to distribute the smokeSCREEN game from the play2PREVENT Lab at the Yale Center for Health and Learning Games to schools across the country. 
  • The CVS Health Foundation will support the expansion of Stanford School of Medicine’s Tobacco Prevention Toolkit to at least eight new states, with the goal of reaching a minimum of 150,000 additional students over the next 18 months. 
  • CVS Health will partner with on a social media campaign to address the e-cigarette epidemic.

RELATED: Surgeon general to healthcare professionals: Ask kids about e-cigarette use

  • A $600,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation will support the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation’s signature Ask and Act program to provide family clinicians with the resources they need to appropriately counsel youth patients on the dangers of ENDS, as well as cessation options.
  • With support from the Aetna Foundation, CVS Health will also support clinician training with grants targeted to Cook Children’s Medical Center, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, CVS Health is offering new grants to Breathe New Hampshire, Youth and Shelter Services in Iowa and Tobacco-Free Rhode Island.

“We are at a pivotal moment in our nation’s efforts to end the epidemic of e-cigarette use among children that is contributing to a rise in youth smoking,” said Eileen Howard Boone, president of the CVS Health Foundation, in a statement. “By collaborating with leading organizations across the public health community to implement more aggressive strategies, we can make a significant impact on the health of our next generation."