In 2014, CVS Health made headlines by ending the sale of tobacco products across all of its chains. The pharmaceutical giant continues to make a stand with its “Be the First” initiative, which aims to help lower tobacco usage with a particular focus on youth. Instrumental in leading the initiative is mom-of-six Eileen Howard Boone, SVP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy for CVS and president of the CVS Health Foundation. Here, she talks about Be the First and its goals, parenting and how to talk your kids about the danger of tobacco use.
What is the Be the First Initiative?
Be the First is a five-year, $50 million dollar commitment to help create the first generation to be tobacco-free. It is designed around three primary areas: First is awareness and education. We have a number of different programs that start in third grade and all the way up to healthy information and awareness in the sixth and seventh grades. The second is advocacy, and we're working with a number of organizations to help create tobacco-free educational facilities across the country. The last part is healthy interventions: helping kids understand the opportunities they have to mange stress, the opportunities to be the healthiest they can be—and that means not smoking. To a large extent, we've developed national, regional and local partners to allow for Be the First to be an integral part of the public health community.
And what do you hope to accomplish?
We have three main goals. The first is to reduce the number of new smokers. There are 3,800 kids that start smoking every year. The second is increasing the number of educational facilities that are tobacco-free. Our goal is to double the amount that there are today. There are more than 10,000 colleges and universities, but only 1,400 are tobacco free. And then for the broadest, we want to reduce the youth smoking rate by 3 percent over the next five years.
Would you say your experience as a mother has influenced your support for this initiative?
Absolutely! If you look at the facts, 90 percent of smokers begin before the age of 19, 30 percent of teen smokers will continue to smoke and die of smoking-related illnesses. Smokers die three to 14 years earlier than non-smokers. You can even go deeper. Teenagers who smoke are three times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to smoke marijuana and 22 times more likely to use cocaine. For me as a parent, I want to make sure my kids are as healthy as they can be. That involves a lot of role modeling and conversation and experience. It needs to be reinforced in our country, and specifically as a parent, trying to make sure that they understand the health hazards both to themselves and their environments.
How can parents talk to their children about the dangers of tobacco use?
It’s never too early to start the conversation. As I said, I’m a parent of kids ages six to 17, so I’m cultivating my own tobacco control advocates within my own family. It’s really up to parents to emphasize that tobacco-free living is part of a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to talk about it and talk about your own thoughts and experiences from growing up. I lost an aunt to tobacco-related cancer a number of years ago, so I have a very emotional reaction to those that are addicted to smoking and the impact that it can have on a family and family structure … It’s important to talk about these issues and make sure that they understand that you’re there for them and want to have a conversation about it.
As a mom of six, how do you balance your professional life with you home life?
You can’t be successful, man or woman, in the professional world and raise children without a partner to help. A partner can be a spouse, it can be a nanny or it can be a variety of things. For me, my husband has been an amazing partner and supportive of my career at CVS Health.