A Reformed Peddler of Cigarettes Coughs Up $5 Million to Make the Next Gen Tobacco Free

Last year, CVS made a landmark commitment to end sales of cigarette and other tobacco products at its more than 7,800 retail stores. CVS was the first national pharmacy chain to do so, so that was a big deal.

Apparently, though, the company feels guilty for all the years that it did sell cigarettes. After all, what the heck was a pharmacy doing selling products that can kill people?

All of which may explain why, in 2014, the CVS Health Foundation gave $1 million to a long list of programs nationwide to work on smoking cessation. And now it's gone way beyond that, recently pledging $5 million to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based advocacy group, to launch its “Making the Next Generation Tobacco-Free” grant program.

The new program will provide grants to organizations committed to implementing public health strategies to decrease youth tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, particularly for at-risk populations. The first grant recipients will be announced March 18 on Kick Butts Day, an annual event for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

CVS's decision to reduce access to tobacco by taking the products out of its own stores may have been pivotal in the company's strategic ability to more fully marry its corporate and philanthropic agendas. Access to tobacco is a huge determinant in the likelihood of smoking in a community, as evidenced by events in two cities, San Francisco and Boston, both of which enacted policies eliminating the sale of cigarettes in stores with retail pharmacies in 2010 and 2011.

CVS Health studied a population of the two regions following the change in policy and found that the change was associated with a 5 to 13 percent reduction in purchasers of tobacco products. If all the pharmacies across the country stopped selling tobacco products, it is estimated that 25,000 to 60,000 tobacco-related deaths could be prevented. 

Data like that makes a very convincing argument not only for CVS to stop selling tobacco, but for the rest of the country's pharmacies to follow suit. More information about the current round of grants will be forthcoming, so check out the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids to stay updated.

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