CVS Health is leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, saying the trade group's position on tobacco products is incompatible with CVS' focus on health.
The Chamber of Commerce said its position on tobacco products is being misinterpreted and it's unfortunate that a company is leaving the organization over the issue.
A New York Times article published June 30 said the Chamber of Commerce is fighting anti-smoking laws around the world at the behest of the tobacco industry, which is facing increased regulation aimed at reducing smoking. The next day, the Chamber of Commerce said in a press release that it is not promoting the use of tobacco, but is working to make sure intellectual property rights are protected and international agreements are upheld, and is fighting against discriminatory treatment of unpopular industries.
On Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce said it makes a "principled defense of the rights of companies and the free enterprise system" that applies to all industries, not just tobacco. The organization advocates says its members include about 3 million businesses ranging from small companies to major corporations.
CVS Health runs the second-largest chain of drugstores in the U.S., with about 7,800 locations, and manages prescription benefits for about 70 million people through its Caremark division. The Woonsocket, R.I.-based stopped selling tobacco products at its stores in September because it was concentrating on health care.
Competitors Walgreen Boots Alliance and Rite Aid Corp. haven't announced any plans to stop selling tobacco products. Walgreen has about 8,200 stores in the U.S., and Rite Aid has about 4,600.
It remains to be seen whether other healthcare organizations will continue as members of the Chamber. Health Care Service Corp. is one of them. Spokesman Greg Thompson said they had no comment on CVS' decision and that their stance on anti-smoking efforts is clear.
“Because smoking may increase your risk for a range of diseases and may shorten life span, Health Care Service Corporation works (and has worked) with customers and a range of national, state and local organizations on education programs and cessation solutions. We are convinced that ending smoking may help people live longer, enjoy a better quality of life and reduce costs in our healthcare system. This is a point of view we have advocated for decades and made clear to organizations that we support,” Thompson said.
Kristin Binns, vice president of corporate communications for Anthem, touted the company's partnerships with the American Lung Association, the March of Dimes and the American Cancer Society.
"Anthem is dedicated to helping people quit smoking and has led the charge to end tobacco use among millions of Americans,” Binns said, “Anthem has shared its strong, longstanding position with the Chamber and will continue to address our concerns with the Chamber directly."
Steward Health Care Healthcare's chairman and CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre serves on the chamber's board.
Spokesperson Brooke Thurston said the company actively supports patients' efforts to quit smoking.
“If the Chamber is in fact advocating for increased smoking, we do not agree with them on this public health issue,” she added.
However, none of the companies would comment on whether they were planning on following in CVS' footsteps.
Staff writer Andis Robeznieks contributed to this report.