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Tackling adolescent smoking and vaping

December 10, 2020 | Community

Young people standing together holding anti-tobacco signs in protest.

As if there weren’t enough reasons for adolescents to avoid tobacco use, here’s yet another: Young adults who smoke or vape are five to seven times more likely to contract COVID-19 and to experience the virus’s more serious symptoms.

Even without added COVID-19 risks, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in this country, says Dr. Albert Rizzo, American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. And adolescence is the prime time to start smoking: Almost 90% of today’s adult daily smokers started by the age of 18.

In 2014, CVS Health became the first and only national retail pharmacy to address this public health crisis by removing tobacco products from stores.

“The sale of tobacco products was inconsistent with our company purpose, which is helping people on their path to better health,” says Eileen Howard Boone, SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility & Philanthropy. “Removing tobacco products from our stores was the right thing to do for the health of our customers, clients and community.”

CVS Health also launched its Be The First initiative in 2016. The five-year, $50 million project partnered with community organizations to help raise the first tobacco-free generation.

Be The First is informed by three pillars: education & awareness, advocacy and healthy behaviors. The program’s education initiative focuses on the dangers of tobacco with the help of partners like the CATCH Global Foundation, creators of CATCH My Breath — a youth electronic cigarette and vaping prevention program.

For the program’s second pillar of youth advocacy, The CVS Health Foundation partnered with Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which offers comprehensive youth advocacy training.

“Being able to give youth tools and resources to promote tobacco-free living in their communities helps move the needle,” Eileen says.

The third, and maybe most important pillar, promotes healthy behaviors. To that end, the company partnered with the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games, which launched an interactive video game that significantly increases e-cigarette risk perception.

After five years, Be The First reached 15 million youth with its messaging and exceeded many of its objectives.

Then non-traditional tobacco products — e-cigarettes — arrived.

Although use is trending down, 3.6 million youth still use e-cigarettes — epidemic proportions, states the Surgeon General.

Facing this new challenge, CVS Health will continue to work toward a tobacco-free generation, says Eileen, and to spread the bottom-line message: “No amount of nicotine is safe for young people.”