APHA Tobacco Symposium

From left: William Shrank, MD, MSHS, CVS Health’s chief scientific officer and chief medical officer for provider innovation and analytics; Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids; acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH; panel moderator Lyndon Haviland, DrPH; APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD; Thomas Menighan, ScD, MBA, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Pharmacists Association; and Shari Davidson, vice president of the National Business Group on Health. Photo by Lindsey Wahowiak/The Nation’s Health/APHA

CVS Health took a financial risk when it stopped tobacco sales in its 7,700 stores, foregoing $2 billion of annual revenue to do so. It introduced a question: Can two distinct groups — public health and the private sector — work together to promote good health and successful business practices?

Leaders from both sides shared their thoughts at a symposium hosted by APHA and CVS Health on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It would be great if we could walk away from this meeting with a clear sense of how all of us work in different settings — and potentially come from different backgrounds — but all have a shared and profound interest in the same result,” said William Shrank, senior vice president at CVS Health. “Eliminating cigarettes in pharmacies is one piece but helping us to get to a tobacco-free society is our goal.”

Business leaders on the panel — also including National Business Group on Health Vice President Shari Davidson and American Pharmacists Association CEO Thomas Menighan — agreed that health is playing an increasing role in their bottom lines.

In return, as Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said, the public health community can make sure that CVS and any other company that “does the right thing is rewarded every day and in every way.”

“The best way to ensure that the other businesses follow is if CVS is unquestionably perceived to have taken not only the right step from a public health standpoint, but the smartest business step everybody could have,” Myers said. “That will only happen if we, as citizens, take the action to absolutely guarantee that that is deemed to be the social norm from a business standpoint, from an ethical standpoint, and every other standpoint in our community.”

The two-hour conversation included a broad range of tobacco-control issues, including the emergence of e-cigarettes, marketing in entertainment and the private sector’s ability to deglamorize tobacco. One example included a newspaper’s publishing of a Major League Baseball team’s support of tobacco use, which was opposed days later in a letter-to-the-editor.

Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak keynoted the discussion by pointing at an APHA banner featuring its tagline, “For Science. For Action. For Health.” The slogan, he said, explained why smoking rates have been cut by more than half since the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General Report on smoking and health — and how 480,000 cigarette smokers don’t have to die every year.

“Fifty years from now, the surgeon general at the time will make speeches and it will all be a historical vignette about how bizarre our culture was that we allowed for this,” he said. “We are talking about science, but that is not enough because that science needs to be put into an action phase to do something about it. Ultimately that attainable goal is the health of our nation.”

Sign and join more than 10,000 supporters of APHA’s petition to halt sales of tobacco in health care settings. And visit APHA on Storify to find “four reasons why all pharmacies should ditch tobacco.”