WSL Future of Health Event

CVS enhances role as health advocate

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Everyone recognizes CVS Health’s importance in the delivery of pharmacy care to Americans. During the past decade, the company not only augmented its already formidable presence in the drug store business but emerged as a major force in the pharmacy benefits management and retail clinic sectors. With the launch earlier this month of an initiative designed to bring about the nation’s first tobacco-free generation, CVS is further broadening its reach as a health care advocate.

MMR OpinionCalled Be The First, the five-year, $50 million program is intended to keep young people from smoking, a habit that is the biggest cause of premature morbidity and mortality in the United States.

Funded by CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation, Be The First will include components focused on education, advocacy, tobacco control and healthy behavior. 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.

CVS and its partners have set ambitious goals for the program. They 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.

One important target area for Be The First is social media. A range of videos, graphics and other digital tools will be created and made available to young people, as a means of helping them express their support for a healthy lifestyle that excludes smoking, and 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. The move came at a considerable cost — $2 billion a year in sales and the associated customer traffic — but as CVS president and chief executive officer Larry Merlo explained at the time, it “is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

With the new initiative, CVS is looking beyond its customer base and addressing the public as a whole. By lending the clout and financial resources of a trusted drug store operator to an important health care issue, CVS furthers the transformation of community pharmacy from an industry focused on dispensing prescription medications to one with a wide and growing range of capabilities that support the well-being of customers.

The easy accessibility of community pharmacies, together with the high regard in which most consumers hold the professionals who staff them, makes those stores an ideal vehicle for the dissemination of health information. The role played by the industry in getting the word out about options under such federal programs as Medicare Part D and the Affordable Care Act demonstrates the potential pharmacy has to improve lives by serving as community health care centers, where the knowledge that can be obtained is as important as the products that are available.

CVS deserves a lot of credit for combining those strengths with the power of the new multifaceted campaign to tackle a grave and persistent threat to public health.


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