CVS Health, which has been on an antitobacco kick in recent years, announced Tuesday that it is leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over its apparent defense of the tobacco industry in other countries. The chamber, however, claims that its actions were meant to defend the intellectual property of an industry, not to show its support of smoking.
The nation’s second-largest pharmacy benefits manager has left the country’s largest trade group—and the reason why is near and dear to CVS’ heart.
CVS Health announced Tuesday that it is dropping its membership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in response to reports that the chamber is actively fighting antismoking measures in other countries. CVS no longer sells tobacco products (as of late last year) because of its greater emphasis on healthy lifestyles.
“We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on tobacco products outside the United States,” CVS Senior Vice President David Palombi said in a statement to the media. “CVS Health’s purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a New York Times report that the chamber is defending the practices of the tobacco industry in countries such as Nepal, New Zealand, Ukraine, and Uruguay, often using pro-trade arguments in fighting the rise of antismoking laws.
In the article the chamber defends its practices, noting that it frequently works with a wide assortment of industries on issues related to international trade.
“The Chamber regularly reaches out to governments around the world to urge them to avoid measures that discriminate against particular companies or industries, undermine their trademarks or brands, or destroy their intellectual property,” the trade group said in a statement to the Times. “We’ve worked with a broad array of business organizations at home and abroad to defend these principles.”
In response to CVS’ decision to leave the organization, the chamber reiterated this point in new comments to the Times.
“To be clear, the chamber does not support smoking and wants people to quit,” the chamber stated. “At the same time, we support protecting the intellectual property and trademarks of all legal products in all industries and oppose singling out certain industries for discriminatory treatment.”
CVS is only one of the critics that the chamber has faced in response to the Times report. Others include seven Democratic U.S. senators, billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, and the World Health Organization.