The CVS Health Corporation said Tuesday that it was resigning from the United States Chamber of Commerce after revelations that the chamber and its foreign affiliates were undertaking a global lobbying campaign against antismoking laws. "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, a senior vice president at the company, 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."
Early last year, CVS announced unexpectedly that its stores will no longer sell tobacco products. President Obama took note, applauding the company for setting "a powerful example" that will help "reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."
By September, CVS followed through, letting the public know it had met its goal one month early.
Today, the drugstore chain took yet another striking step along the same lines. The New York Times reported:
CVS's announcement follows last week's NYT reporting on the business lobby investing heavily in overseas efforts to combat smoking restrictions, despite the health care companies that serve on the Chamber's board.
The World Health Organization quickly condemned the Chamber's efforts. Around the same time, several Democratic U.S. senators called the Chamber's international tobacco lobbying "craven and unconscionable," adding that "member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide."
It appears CVS noticed and reacted exactly as the senators suggested.
There's always a concern when a retailer takes steps like these that it may affect corporate profits, but the Washington Post reported in the fall that front-of-store sales dropped just 0.4 percent after all tobacco products were removed. Overall sales, meanwhile, actually improved.
For context, let's also not forget that CVS, two years ago this month, also joined a campaign to encourage the public to enroll in health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act. It prompted chatter of a right-wing boycott of the drugstore chain, though it never materialized.