By Sheryl Estrada
The national spotlight that shined on CVS Health when the company first announced in February 2014 that it would end tobacco sales is about to get brighter.
President and CEO Larry J. Merlo will be a guest at Tuesday’s State of the Union address for his company’s efforts in making a difference in the health of Americans. He will join 22 others in a box with First Lady Michelle Obama; Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President.
“It’s certainly exciting, and I think it’s really a recognition that reflects the work of our more than 200,000 colleagues across the country,” Merlo told the Providence Journal. “I think everyone could relate to the effects of tobacco and how it may have affected a family member or a loved one.”
The White House also highlighted CVS Health’s recruitment and talent-development efforts, saying in a release that Merlo “has prioritized the company’s commitment to creating economic opportunities for current and future colleagues at all levels. CVS Health recognizes the value of military service and has a long-standing commitment to hiring qualified veterans and military spouses. The company has also established programs to hire long-term unemployed workers, create summer jobs for youth and transition workers off public assistance. CVS Health also trains pharmacy technicians through apprenticeship programs, offers scholarships to future pharmacists, and engages diverse students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.”
CVS Health (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies) is the first major pharmacy chain in the U.S. to stop selling tobacco products—most notably, cigarettes. The recent rebranding of the company, from CVS Caremark to CVS Health, involves multiple initiatives to foster wellness in its customers as well as its employees.
On Sept. 3, a month before its original deadline of Oct. 1, CVS stores nationwide ceased sales of tobacco products. It was a risky decision, which could result in the loss of approximately $2 billion in sales.
In a statement in September, Merlo said, “Selling tobacco in a healthcare setting was becoming a growing contradiction for the health brand. By eliminating cigarettes and tobacco products from sale in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans.”