CVS launches $50M initiative to stop youth smoking

Just over two years ago, physician groups applauded CVS Heath for its decision to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores. Now, the company has launched an initiative it hopes will cut the smoking rate of young people across the country by three percent over the next five years, according to an announcement made today.

CVS Health, the largest pharmacy company in the U.S., is making a $50 million five-year commitment which it hopes results in the country's first tobacco-free generation. The initiative, in which the Rhode Island-based company is partnering with other advocacy groups, builds on the decision in 2014 to stop selling tobacco products in its stores, a move it estimated cost $2 billion in lost sales, according to the announcement.

It's "Be The First" campaign also aims to achieve a 10 percent decline in the number of new youth smokers and a doubling of the number of tobacco-free college and university campuses.

Working to reach young people where they live, the initiative will include the #BeTheFirst social campaign to encourage young people to remove depictions of tobacco use from their social networking sites as a way to influence others not to smoke. Just as TV and movie depictions of smoking can influence people to smoke, research shows that exposure to social media predicts a tendency for future smoking, the company said.

The initiative is being funded through CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation and recognizes that while tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the county, the use of tobacco products is on the rise among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each day more than 3,800 children under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette and more than 2,000 youth and young adults become regular, daily smokers.

"Ensuring our youth stay tobacco-free requires increased education and awareness of healthy behaviors," Troyen A. Brennan, M.D., chief medical officer for CVS Health, said in the announcement. "We're partnering with experts across the public health community who have established best practices to help prevent tobacco use." The company is convening a group of national experts to advise it on trends and strategies. 

One way physicians can help is to talk to their teen patients about smoking. Research has shown that those young people who discuss smoking with their doctors are less likely to start smoking, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

In 2014, physician and anti-smoking groups praised CVS' decision to stop selling tobacco products. However, some critics wondered if the decision was made because of the company's growing retail-based clinics. A number of medical societies said retail clinics should not operate in or associate with facilities that sell tobacco products. Long an established player in the retail market, CVS is now one of the biggest healthcare companies in the country, with 1,500 walk-in Minute Clinics.

To learn more:
- read the CVS announcement
- here is the CDC fact sheet