While a shift in consumer attitudes away from smoking has been mounting for decades, major brands are now stepping up to do their part to extinguish the unhealthy habit.
First, CVS Health Corporation resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week, after exposing the Chamber’s involvement in lobbying campaigns against anti-smoking laws. CVS says selling cigarettes is antithetical to its strategy to become a healthcare destination.
“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” David R. Palombi, SVP at CVS, said in a statement. “CVS Health’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 stopped selling tobacco products in its more than 7,600 US stores last year. This year, the company helped conduct a smoke-cessation study on the effectiveness of financial incentives in kicking the habit. The study involved employees and their friends and family members, and formed the basis of a smoking cessation program offered to CVS Health employees launched last month.
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Meanwhile, the Walt Disney Company today announced its intention to prohibit cigarette-smoking depictions in films it produces with youth ratings. The company is the first major Hollywood studio to do so, following pressure from a coalition of investors.
“Disney is showing their leadership by taking action on the Surgeon General and CDC report, implementing a policy with direct impact on this public health crisis,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of environmental health advocacy non-profit As You Sow. “The next step should be to publicly endorse an MPAA policy to require an R rating for all films depicting smoking.”
If the entire industry followed Disney’s lead, the US Surgeon General estimates over a million children’s lives could be saved. In 2012, the organization concluded “there is a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in the movies and the initiation of smoking among young people.”
“Giving an R rating to movies with smoking would be expected to reduce the number of teen smokers by nearly one in five (18 percent) and prevent one million deaths from smoking among children alive today,” concluded a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the youth movies (including G, PG and PG-13 ratings) that Disney produces will no longer depict smoking, the policy does not extend to films the company produces. Some faith-based shareholder groups are advocating further action:
“We commend Disney for this historic move,” said Rev. Michael Crosby, Tobacco Issue Coordinator for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). “However, this is still an industry-wide problem that has not been resolved by the MPAA. … Disney is part of the solution, but 88 percent of youth-rated films are not made by Disney.”
“We hope the company closes this loophole and also extends the policy to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which is important as youth tobacco use changes,” said Tom McCaney, Associate Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia.
The decision continues to reflect Disney’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of children, which it demonstrated in 2012 when it banned the advertising of junk food on all of its child-focused cable networks by this year.