The number of people who smoke cigarettes has been on a steady decline in the United States for decades. Yet, tobacco use kills an estimated 6 million people annually—and that number is expected to climb in coming years. Although most of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, rich countries are not immune, here. In the United States, around one in five deaths are connected to tobacco use. Globally, tobacco use kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined.
While major funders like Bloomberg and Gates have taken aim at curbing tobacco use in poor and middle-income countries—Bloomberg alone has committed close to $1 billion in the global fight against tobacco use—anti-tobacco campaigns in the United States don’t garner nearly as much funding. However, at least one corporate funder is making this serious public health problem a major funding priority.
In 2014, the pharmacy chain CVS Caremark made headlines with its decision to ban tobacco sales at every one of its more than 9,600 stores across the country. In doing so, CVS gave up some $2 billion in annual sales, but the big-picture argument was that it would be better for the company in the long run. According to CVS president Larry Menlo, the move would “better position us [CVS] for continued growth in the evolving healthcare marketplace.”
Later, in 2016, the company’s charitable arm, the CVS Health Foundation, made reducing tobacco use one of its top priorities, launching a campaign to create the country’s first tobacco-free generation. Its latest support for this cause comes in the form of $1 million in grants.
The CVS Health Foundation announced that all $1 million would support eight Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) member cancer centers across the country. Grants range from between $100,000 and $130,000 each, and support the development and launch of new smoking cessation programs and expanding existing programs.
One of the goals of AACI's program is to reach more at-risk patient populations. While AACI and CVS did not provide details regarding target neighborhoods or populations, grants were awarded to centers located in large cities across the United States such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.
The CVS Health Foundation’s latest rounds of grants to AACI were awarded as part of its Be the First Initiative. Launched in 2016, Be the First is a five-year, $50 million initiative to “Help deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation.” Receiving financial support from CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation, the Be the First campaign is largely directed at youth and young adults who are currently tobacco users or at risk of becoming regular users, and elementary school children. The campaign uses comprehensive education, anti-tobacco advocacy, tobacco control initiatives, and healthy behavior programming in an effort to keep kids and young people tobacco free.
Though it’s unlikely that CVS will achieve this goal in five years, it has set measurable objectives for the campaign. Those goals include contributing to a 3 percent drop in the national youth smoking rate, contributing to an overall 10 percent decrease in the number of new youth smokers, and doubling the number of college and university campuses that are tobacco-free.