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March 11th, 2016:

CVS launches $50m campaign to bring up first tobacco-free generation

Dive Brief:

  • CVS Health, the largest drugstore retailer in the U.S., launched “Be the First,” a $50 million, five-year effort to help curb tobacco use, which it notes is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S.
  • “Be the First” is aimed at young people, including elementary school-age kids, because youth tobacco use is rising, with nearly a quarter of high schoolers using tobacco products of some kind, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The initiative includes comprehensive education, advocacy, tobacco control and healthy behavior programming in partnership with other organizations, including the American Cancer Society and the National Urban League, that work on tobacco use cessation and prevention.

Dive Insight:

When it announced in early 2014 that it would cease sales of tobacco, the drugstore chain knew it was leaving behind $2 billion in business, but CVS president and CEO Larry Merlo said at the time that “the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

Indeed, CVS is in the midst of a hard pivot to become more of an all-around provider of healthcare and medical services in addition to its traditional pharmacy and health and beauty retail business. The chain counts among its executive ranks a physician with a public health degree, Chief Medical Officer Troyen A. Brennan, M.D., M.P.H.

“We are at a critical moment in our nation’s efforts to end the epidemic of tobacco use that continues to kill more people than any other preventable cause of death, and threatens the health and well-being of our next generation,” Brennan said in a statement. “Ensuring our youth stay tobacco-free requires increased education and awareness of healthy behaviors. We’re partnering with experts across the public health community who have established best practices to help prevent tobacco use. And, by establishing more public-private partnerships to implement these strategies more aggressively, we can help increase the number of people leading tobacco-free lives and move us one step closer to delivering the first tobacco-free generation.”

There’s no doubt that this initiative is in keeping with CVS’s health focus. But the move could also have the benefit of eating into its rivals’ bottom line. Although CVS has sought to encourage other drugstore retailers to follow in its footsteps by ending tobacco sales, none has so far, despite their own forays into medical services.

CVS last month reported Q4 earnings of $1.5 billion or $1.34 per share, meeting expectations from the street. The retailer also reported Q4 revenue of $41.15 billion, beating expectations of $41.01 billion. Retail sales rose 12.5% to $19.9 billion, about half of which stemmed from its acquisition last year of drug distribution company Omnicare.

Police seize 88 tonnes of contraband tobacco in Spain

Spanish police have seized a record 88 tonnes of contraband tobacco, the equivalent of over eight million packets of cigarettes and arrested six people, the government said Friday.

The tobacco was found in several warehouses in the provinces of Jaen and Almeria in the southern region of Andalucia and it had a street value of €14 million ($15.4 million), the finance ministry said in a statement.

Police detained six people who are suspected of chopping up the tobacco so as to make cigarettes and then selling it over the Internet.

“They even posted several tutorials online where they showed how to roll the cigarettes,” the statement said.

The operation more than doubles the previous record seizure of 41 tonnes of contraband tobacco carried out in November 2015 in Andalucia. Eleven people were detained in Jaen and Madrid as part of that operation.

The authorities suspect the six people who were arrested in the latest sting were trying to “substitute” the contraband tobacco operation that was dismantled last year.

Both contraband operations came to light when legal tobacco sellers in Andalucia complained that their sales had dropped sharply.

California raises tobacco buying age to 21

California’s senate on Thursday approved a draft of anti-smoking legislation raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 and regulating e-cigarettes.

Described by senate leader Kevin De Leon as “the most expansive tobacco control legislative package in over a decade,” the measures are part of a package of six bills given the green light by lawmakers.

Under the new laws, e-cigarettes will be reclassified as tobacco products and banned in restaurants, theaters and other public places where smoking normal cigarettes is already forbidden.

“This is California’s chance to make history by drastically reducing Big Tobacco’s ability to target and poison our youth,” said Democrat senator Ed Hernandez, who introduced the bill raising the buying age.

“We will no longer stand idly by while they continue to get generation after generation addicted. We need to make this happen for the sake of our children and the overall health of our state.”

The bills, which also require schools to be tobacco free and allow for local votes to increase tobacco taxes, will be put before Governor Jerry Brown to sign within 12 days and will come into law within three months.

“The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this measure is and how much their business model relies on selling their drug to our kids,” Hernandez added.

If Brown signs the legislation, California will become the second state, after Hawaii, to increase the tobacco buying age to 21, although New York, San Francisco and dozens of other cities have passed laws of their own cracking down on tobacco, including raising the minimum age for purchasing.

The California Medical Association hailed the move as “another important step re-establishing California’s rightful place as a national leader in the fight against tobacco addiction, the number one cause of preventable death in our state and our country.”

Time for a Tobacco Act, says MCTC

Council chief Cheah says Putrajaya must have the political will to control tobacco use.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) has alleged that the government lacks the political will to control tobacco use to ensure that young Malaysians don’t develop the smoking habit.

Speaking to FMT, MTMC President Molly Cheah said she hoped Putrajaya would use the time allocated under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to finally come up with a Tobacco Act.

Countries committed to signing the TPPA are given two years to amend existing laws or enact new ones before the agreement comes into effect.

“Malaysia is backward compared to other countries who are signing on to the TPPA,” she said. “It still doesn’t have a proper act in place to control the use of tobacco.”

Instead, she said, the government seemed content to control tobacco use through what she called an “archaic” provision of the Food Act 1983.

However, Cheah commended the Ministry of Health for planning to implement a rule requiring plain packaging of tobacco products, saying the measure had shown positive results in other countries.

“We are fully supporting the move and hope that the government will implement plain packaging as soon as possible as it’s shown to be a very effective means to control the use of tobacco.”

She dismissed the notion that the move would have repercussions on intellectual property rights, noting that Australia, one of the TPP partners, was already successful in implementing it.

Probe on amid stink over smoking-ban checks

The Ombudsman will investigate enforcement by the Food and Health Bureau and the Department of Health of the smoking ban in public places.

Its move comes after a barrage of media reports and public complaints over an ineffective government campaign, with critics slamming the ban as practically useless.

The bulk of the complaints center on the failure to deploy plainclothes officers.

Complainants also criticized the failure of certain departments to cooperate with the Tobacco Control Office and support its enforcement actions.

A preliminary inquiry by the Ombudsman found that the bureau and the health department have set up a mechanism to inspect no-smoking areas and conduct prosecutions.

Cooperation with other statutory authorities, including the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Housing Department and the police have also taken place.

However, the watchdog found that smoking-ban violations at certain spots remain serious, while many locations have turned into persistent black spots, raising questions over the adequacy of the existing mechanism.

“The government’s current tobacco- control policy aims to encourage people to quit smoking and minimize risks posed by second-hand smoke to the public,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said.

“The designation of no-smoking areas is an integral part of that policy. If the purpose of no-smoking areas is defeated by ineffective enforcement, it would mean a failure to discharge the duty of safeguarding public health, and thus it is a disappointment to the public.”

The investigation seeks, among other things, to find out if the mechanism of the bureau and the department for handling smoking offenses is effective. It will also look at how they coordinate their efforts with other statutory authorities in tobacco control and identify areas for improvement and enhancement.

The public have until April 14 to provide their written comments to the Ombudsman.

Smoking blackspots reportedly include restaurants and cooked food centers.

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