CVS Quits Chamber Over Anti-Smoking Laws

July 9, 2015 1:11 pm

By Barbara Frankel

CVS Health will leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the chamber’s decision to fight foreign anti-smoking regulations. The chamber is opposing bans on graphic packaging warning of the dangers of cigarettes and smoking in public places.

In a statement, CVS Health explained its decision: “It was the right thing to do for the health and well-being of our customers. (The company’s) purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”

CVS Health, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies, announced in 2014 it would stop selling cigarettes at all its stores, costing the company approximately $2 billion in annual tobacco sales.

The New York Times revealed this week that The Chamber of Commerce  opposed foreign regulations on bans prohibiting smoking in public, as well as laws banning tobacco advertising and menthol cigarettes.  The chamber also said it opposed plain packaging and graphic warning labels.

The chamber stated that it  “is protecting its members’ interests,” including tobacco companies, but does not support smoking. The chamber issued a statement after CVS Health’s announcement. ” “It’s unfortunate that a concerted misinformation campaign about the U.S. Chamber’s position on smoking has resulted in a company leaving our organization … To be clear, the Chamber does not support smoking and wants people to quit. We promote wellness nationally and globally and we sponsor smoking cessation plans for our own employees. At the same time, we support protecting the intellectual property and trademarks of all legal products in all industries and oppose singling out certain industries for discriminatory treatment.”

According to the Times, Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the chamber, is personally involved in the effort to stop the anti-smoking regulations. The World Health Organization is also opposing the chamber’s tobacco efforts as are seven U.S. Senators, all Democrats, who said the chamber’s lobbying on behalf of the tobacco companies was “craven and unconscionable.

CVS Health has been a leader in fighting smoking.  In addition to the decision to stop selling cigarettes, the company has started a major smoking-cessation study with employees and their friends and families, offers smoking-cessation classes at its almost 1,000  Minute Clinics nationwide. Those clinics, many in inner cities, offer both care and wellness services with nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants.

The company also was in the news in May after the riots in Baltimore. Two of its pharmacies were devastated by fire and CVS Health decided immediately to rebuild them, pay the employees who temporarily lost their jobs, and donate $100,000 to help rebuild the city.

CVS Health is not the first company to ends its relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over values. Other companies, including Nike and Apple, have left over the chamber’s opposition to climate change and Yahoo left over the chamber’s views on intellectual property. But CVS Health is the first to leave over health concerns. Other healthcare companies on the chamber’s board include Health Care Service Corporation, Anthem, and Steward Health Care System.  All three have issued statements opposing the chamber’s view on foreign anti-smoking regulations, but only CVS Health has resigned.