Eileen Howard Boone, CVS Health’s senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, and president of the CVS Health Foundation, talked with Providence Business News about the results of a survey that CVS Health commissioned in 2016 to learn more about respondents’ perceptions and beliefs about e-cigarettes.
Howard Boone was instrumental in leading stakeholder engagement regarding the company’s decision to stop selling tobacco products and in gaining strategic support from prominent anti-tobacco nonprofit organizations and health care entities for the company’s decision. A resident of Barrington, she is a member of the board of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which is collaborating with CVS Health on its anti-smoking initiative.
PBN: CVS Health recently surveyed more than 2,200 registered voters about e-cigarettes. What was the motivation to conduct that survey and how does it tie into, if it does, CVS Health’s “Be the First” campaign?
HOWARD BOONE: While smoking rates across the United States are at an all-time low, the use of e-cigarettes among teens is rapidly increasing. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, more than 2.2 million high school students and 620,000 middle school students currently use e-cigarettes.
We conducted this survey to better understand consumer understanding of e-cigarettes and their associated risks. One thing we learned from the survey is that there is a disconnect between people’s perceptions of e-cigarettes and the initial research findings of their safety. As part of Be The First, our five-year, $50 million initiative to help deliver the first tobacco-free generation, we are committed to broadening the public’s understanding of the risks of tobacco use in any form.
PBN: Your survey revealed that 58 percent of respondents believe e-cigarettes are harmful, yet 31 percent consider them a safer alternative to regular cigarettes. Did any of those results surprise you, and do the data require a tweaking or modification of the Be The First messages?
HOWARD BOONE: We’re continuously working with our partners and the public health community to ensure that we are implementing effective strategies that will increase the number of people leading tobacco-free lives and move us one step closer to delivering the first tobacco-free generation. We believe that the survey results show there is still a lot of research and awareness that needs to be done to educate the general public – especially our youth – on the potentially harmful effects of e-cigarettes.
PBN: Apart from potentially increasing the risk of tobacco smoking, have e-cigarettes proven detrimental to one’s health; are studies underway to evaluate e-cigarettes’ potential health impacts?
HOWARD BOONE: According to a December 2016 report of the Surgeon General of the United States, “E-Cigarette Use Among Youth and Young Adults,” e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug at any age. Youth and young adults are especially vulnerable to the long-term consequences of exposing the brain to nicotine, and the use of products containing nicotine in any form, including e-cigarettes, among youth is unsafe. The report also found that secondhand aerosol, which is exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users, can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals. With our partners and the larger public health community, we are committed to broadening the public’s understanding of the risks of tobacco use, no matter the form it takes.
PBN: According to your reported data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is at an all-time low for high school students since 1991, yet more than 620,000 middle school students and more than 2.3 million high school students use e-cigarettes. What are the most significant obstacles to convincing youth to refrain from all forms of smoking or tobacco use, and how is the Be The First campaign addressing those obstacles?
HOWARD BOONE: E-cigarettes are heavily marketed to youth, who represent a significant obstacle to achieving the goal of delivering the first tobacco-free generation. According to the Surgeon General, e-cigarettes are marketed by promoting flavors and using a wide variety of media channels targeted at the youth audience. In 2014, more than seven of 10 middle and high school students said they had seen e-cigarette advertising. As part of Be The Change, we’re supporting a number of partner organizations with tobacco-control expertise that have best-in-class practices to help address all of the challenges, with the goal of delivering the first tobacco-free generation.
PBN: What milestones, if any, can you report for your Be The First campaign, which launched in March 2016?
HOWARD BOONE: The March launch of Be The First set into motion a series of strategies, partnerships and programs that are contributing to the nation’s tobacco control efforts. These include:
As part of the CVS Health Foundation’s $5 million partnership with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, we’ve increased the number of youth trained in advocacy to educate young people about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use.
Convened the first meeting of a national advisory group made up of the country’s leading tobacco-control experts and thought leaders who are advising CVS Health on trends, initiatives and strategies to help advance the company’s efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free.
Launched a new program with the American Academy of Pediatrics to provide clinicians around the country with the communications tools and counseling protocols needed to screen for secondhand smoke exposure and better prepare them to speak with parents and families about the importance of reducing tobacco use.
Partnered with the New England Revolution [Major League Soccer team] to encourage soccer fans throughout the region to join Be The First and help us “kick” smoking and tobacco use for good.
Introduced a three-year, $3.6 million investment through the CVS Health Foundation to the American Cancer Society to help accelerate and expand the number of college and university campuses throughout the United States that are 100 percent smoke- and tobacco-free. In November 2016, we announced the first 20 public, private and community colleges that are participating in the Tobacco-Free Generation Campus Initiative.
Smoking rates in the United States are at historic lows, thanks to continued tobacco-control interventions at the federal, state and private sector levels. By continuing to bring our company’s resources to the public health community through Be The First, we are contributing to the progress being made where a tobacco-free generation in the United States seems possible, and not a faraway dream.