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CVS doubles down on anti-tobacco effort

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WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health has pledged to spend $50 million over the next five years on an initiative with the ambitious goal of helping to deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation.

The initiative, called “Be the First,” represents a further broadening of CVS’ reach as a health care advocate.

CVS Pharmacy smoking cessation displayFunded by CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation, Be the First will include components focused on education, advocacy, tobacco control and healthy behavior, the company announced last month. It will involve other organizations that are in a position to have a positive impact on the issue, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Scholastic Inc., the American Cancer Society and the National Urban League.

“We are at a critical moment in our nation’s efforts to end the epidemic of tobacco use that continues to kill more people than any other preventable cause of death, and threatens the health and well-being of our next generation,” commented Dr. Troy Brennan, CVS Health’s chief medical officer. “Ensuring our youth stay tobacco-free requires increased education and awareness of healthy behaviors.

“We’re partnering with experts across the public health community who have established best practices to help prevent tobacco use. And by establishing more public-private partnerships to implement these strategies more aggressively, we can help increase the number of people leading tobacco-free lives and move us one step closer to delivering the first tobacco-free generation.”

CVS and its partners intend to help trigger a 3% drop in the smoking rate among young people and a 10% decline in new smokers in that demographic group, as well as cause the number of tobacco-free college and university campuses to double.

Social media is an important target area for Be the First, which will also use a range of videos, graphics and school programs developed to help young people express their support for a healthy lifestyle that excludes smoking and to counter pro-tobacco messages and imagery. The program’s sponsors hope to eventually make social media a tobacco-free environment.

For CVS, Be the First is a logical extension of the decision the company made in February 2014 to stop selling tobacco products in its nationwide network of pharmacies, which now comprise some 9,600 locations — a move that carried the considerable cost of $2 billion a year in sales and the associated decline in customer traffic.


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