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CVS: Example of Corporate Courage, Dumps Big Tobacco and U.S. Chamber

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On July 7th, CVS Health Corp announced it was dropping membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the trade group’s overseas efforts in lobbying against anti-smoking laws.  According to an email statement from CVS spokesman David Palombi,  “CVS’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.”

On October 1, 2014, CVS stopped selling cigarettes and all tobacco products in their more than 7600 stores nationwide.

“By removing tobacco products from our retail shelves, we will better serve our patients, clients and health care providers while positioning CVS Caremark for future growth as a health care company. Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered.”

Withdrawing membership from the Chamber of Commerce is in alignment with CVS’s mission and reflects ongoing concerns about the positions taken by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on global matters affecting health and the environment. Nike and Apple left in 2009 when the chamber threatened to sue if the EPA regulated greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, the American division of Swedish construction company, Skanska, resigned in protest of the Chamber’s lobby effects against green building codes.

The chamber replied to the CVS announcement by stating it did not support smoking. It called the New York Times story a “concerted misinformation campaign.”  Going on to say “… we support protecting the intellectual property and trademarks of all legal products in all industries and oppose singling out certain industries for discriminatory treatment. ”

Enacting health measures to protect the citizens of the world could hardly be called “discriminatory treatment.”  It is the Chamber’s mission to advance the business interests of its membership, but what about the negative health impact of tobacco products? Is that important to the Chamber?  One of the sticking points was the Chamber’s declaration that labeling tobacco products was not effective and therefore unnecessary.

It should come as no surprise that Big Tobacco has tremendous influence with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—money wields a lot of power and the tobacco companies are bulldogs when it comes to selling their product. An executive from the Altria Group (Philip Morris) serves on the Chamber’s board. Philip Morris International is involved in the recent global push back against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) anti-smoking measures. Various executives from Philip Morris work with the Chamber here and in Europe to promote tobacco sales use.

“ The U.S. Chamber’s work in support of the tobacco industry in recent years has emerged as a priority at the same time the industry has faced one of the most serious threats in its history. A global treaty, negotiated through the World Health Organization, mandates anti-smoking measures and also seeks to curb the influence of the tobacco industry in policy making. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, has been ratified by 179 countries; holdouts include Cuba, Haiti and the United States.”

“Facing a wave of new legislation around the world, the tobacco lobby has turned to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the weight of American business behind it. While the chamber’s global tobacco lobbying has been largely hidden from public view, its influence has been widely felt.” (NYTimes.com, 6/30/15)

If ever there was a corporation or group of individuals, other than Big Tobacco,  that cared less about health and safety, I am hard pressed to say who it is.  Big Tobacco has lied to the American public, to Congress and to whomever else would listen, for decades upon decades, until the tobacco settlements of the 1990’s.   Since then, somewhat stymied in the U.S., Tobacco has focused on selling its cancer delivery systems overseas, especially to Southeast Asia.  And now, apparently, Big Tobacco is a bit upset that lobbyists are trying to tell these folks the truth.  So, good for CVS for standing up for its principles. We need more companies willing to stand by their beliefs and to say “No” to Big Tobacco, and Big Tobacco’s mouthpiece, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which exists for little else other than advancing the profit motives of its corporate members .  The safety and well-being of the public is (despite the Chamber’s mlip-service otherwise) not of much concern if it gets in the way of profits.

NOTE:  This article originally appeared on the MichieHamlett Personal Injury Blog.