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RP Siegel headshot

CVS Health Quits US Chamber of Commerce in Another Principled Stand on Tobacco

Words by RP Siegel

A few weeks ago we ran a story about CVS Health's principled stand on tobacco. The company basically gave up $2 billion in annual sales of a product that was inconsistent with its mission of “helping people on their path to better health.”

We spoke with Eileen Howard Boone, SVP of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS. She told us that, in essence, it made no sense -- as the company was making efforts to provide “chronic disease management to help patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” on one hand -- to keep selling tobacco products that have an adverse health impact on each of these conditions, on the other.

Now the retail chain has taken another step to clarify its position on the matter. When it was revealed that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) was gearing up for a global lobbying campaign against anti-smoking laws, CVS resigned its membership in the chamber.

The New York Times described a number efforts by the chamber, working in conjunction with international affiliates, to attack measures that would ban or restrict tobacco sales. In one example, a case being heard in a Ukrainian courtroom, argued on behalf of the local USCC affiliate, attempts to challenge the right of the Australian government to enact smoking bans on its own soil. (Expect to see a lot more of these once the Trans-Pacific Partnership is enacted.) In fact, Thomas J. Donohue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has defended the tobacco industry's right to sue under future international treaties including TPP.

Supporting the tobacco industry has apparently become a priority of the USCC. The rest of the world has come together, with a total of 179 countries signing on to a treaty negotiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) that mandates anti-smoking measures and attempts to reign in the power and influence of the tobacco industry. Three countries have not ratified the treaty. Cuba, famous for their cigars; Haiti, the poorest nation in our hemisphere; and the U.S. The industry, with its very deep pockets here ($47 billion in cigarette sales last year), has its back to the wall, as many would say it should, and the unflagging support of an influential organization whose mission is to promote American business around the world, apparently without regard for what that business might be.

USCC won't comment on whether it specifically targeted anti-smoking legislation. Its only comment was: “The chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries, undermine their trademarks or brands, or destroy their intellectual property. We’ve worked with a broad array of business organizations at home and abroad to defend these principles.”

However, Dr. Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, the head of the Secretariat that oversees the WHO treaty, said: “[The chamber] represent the interests of the tobacco industry. They are putting their feet everywhere where there are stronger regulations coming up.”

So, let’s hear it for CVS for once again taking a principled stand, and shame on the USCC for its seedy interventions. After all, if we call a spade a spade, tobacco companies are little better than dope dealers selling drugs to addicts, who in many cases are incapable of resisting the urge to smoke and will pay whatever price is required to satisfy their craving, no matter the cost to their personal finances, their health or the health of those around them.

The question is: Why has the gap between the interests of American business, as described by the USCC, and the interests of the common good grown so wide? At a time when so many businesses are beginning to step up and consider their public responsibility as central to their core missions, the USCC seems to be mired in the past, chasing a Gilded Age vision of unlimited wealth for the very few, regardless of the social consequences. Perhaps that’s why so many progressive companies are dropping out.

Besides CVS leaving over the tobacco issue, construction firm Skanska left over their resistance to green building practices. Apple, Yahoo, Pacific Gas and Electric, are among those who quit due to the chamber’s stance on environmental issues. Maybe it’s time for the chamber to open a window and let the smoke out, so that they too can see what’s going on.

Image credit: Julie: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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