- CVS Health has pledged not to work with advertising or public relations agencies that work with tobacco and e-cigarette companies, according to a press release. In 2014, the company stopped selling tobacco from its stores.
- The healthcare company becomes the first major brand to join Vital Strategies' "Quit Big Tobacco" campaign, which has been joined by more than 175 agencies and brands. The organization maintains a Tobacco-Free Agencies list that includes Crispin Porter Bogusky, MDC Partners, Ketchum, GMMB and more.
- "Big tobacco is increasingly using new channels to directly target our youth – including leveraging social media and influencers. We unequivocally take the Quit Big Tobacco pledge, meaning we will not work with any marketing and public relations agencies that have ties with the tobacco industry, and we urge other companies to join us in this critically important fight," said CVS Health CMO Norman de Greve in the press release.
CVS has been a corporate leader in pushing back against Big Tobacco since ending tobacco sales in its stores five years ago. This latest move demonstrates how serious the healthcare giant is about a tobacco-free future, as it vows not to work with any of the agencies that earn a piece of the more than $8 billion the industry spent in cigarette marketing in 2017.
CVS notes the 80% rise in vaping among U.S. high school students between 2017 and 2018 as a reason for the move. Last year, a two-year investigation revealed that tobacco companies had secretly partnered with social media influencers to post images of cigarettes and smoking as part of their marketing strategies across 40 countries. Previously, Big Tobacco was under fire for not going far enough with its court-mandated anti-smoking ads. CVS' move is the latest pressure on Big Tobacco and firms that work with the industry.
For agencies, a spot on the Tobacco-Free Agencies list could earn them a look from CVS and any other major brands that also take the pledge.
"Tobacco companies claim that all their lying and deception is behind them, but they're reaching out to their old advertising friends under new pretenses," Alex Bogusky, co-founder and chief creative officer at Crispin Porter Bogusky, said in the press release. "At CPB, we know agency reputation and new business suffers when a client's goal is selling addiction. CVS Health's pledge to Quit Big Tobacco is a strong signal to our industry that cutting ties with the tobacco industry isn't just good practice — it's good business."
Bogusky has a point with his "advertising friends" claim: Juul last week named ex-Gap CMO Craig Brommers, who also held senior marketing positions with Abercrombie & Fitch and Calvin Klein, as its first CMO. One marketing executive who was approached about the job but wasn't interested, noted that the company is "essentially driving up cancer rates and ultimately making more people sick," according to The Wall Street Journal. Marketing in the e-cigarette sector has increased, with Juul this year debuting a marketing campaign to educate adults about the dangers of smoking. The campaign reportedly cost $20 million and followed scrutiny from the FDA for Juul's popularity among teens.
The anti-tobacco move is CVS' latest purpose-driven initiative. The company last year banned the use of photo altering in marketing for its store beauty brands and launched the "Beauty in Real Life" campaign. Such initiatives allow CVS to establish itself as a brand that has progressive values as consumers increasingly favor brands that stand for something.