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CVS makes big move, ditches tobacco products February 21, 2014

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CVS shocked the business world in February 2014 after announcing that it was getting rid of tobacco products in its stores. The company’s CEO called the decision “the right thing for us to do for our customers to help people o their path to better health.” Tobacco products make up about $2 billion of the company’s revenue, so it seems like a risky decision. However, with CVS entering the medical services trade, selling such products became inconsistent with its new image. As NPR’s Yuki Noguchi told Morning Edition, CVS is moving in the direction of the new pharmacy:

“Drug stores aren’t just filling prescriptions these days. A lot of drug stores are marketing themselves as wellness centers, and many, including CVS, are running health care centers and partnering with hospitals. So the company has come to the conclusion that selling cigarettes conflicts with these changes.”

Indeed, CVS Caremark CEO Larry Merlo admitted,”This decision is about much more than that. It’s about where we’re headed as an organization, where we expect to be in the future as a health care company.”

While CVS is winning praise from even President Obama for its latest announcement, critics are claiming that it should only be the first step in cleaning up its stores. According to Derrick Jackson of The Boston Globe:

“If CVS truly cares about all the sources of diabetes and other preventable diseases, soda should be the next target. Two days before Brennan’s op-ed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the most dramatic findings yet linking high sugar consumption to heart disease. The WHO and the American Heart Association recommend that less than 10 percent of a person’s daily calories should come from the added sugars found in processed foods, snacks, and beverages. But 71 percent of Americans exceed that figure.”

For more on the big move by CVS, see the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How was CVS’s decision to get rid of tobacco products a clear PR move?

2.  Can CVS be consistent with its new “healthy” image and still continue to offer the basics to its customers?

3.  What else would CVS have to eliminate from its stores to be completely consistent with its new message?

FDA targets teens with unique anti-smoking campaign February 6, 2014

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The Food and Drug Administration has been trying to figure out, for perhaps decades now, how to convince teens not to smoke. It may finally have an answer: concentrate on the short-term harms of cigarettes. In a new $115 million campaign, the organization is running several ads focusing on how smoking affects kids’ appearances. You know, ruining skin and damaging smiles. Costing a fortune. Making you smell. The ads are graphic, and by most accounts extremely effective. What experts are noting about the campaign is that it uses big tobacco’s most effective strategies against itself. Think smoking will make you friends and make you look cool? Think again.

For more on this campaign, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  Why are so many kids drawn to smoking? How does the FDA’s campaign attempt to address those reasons?

2.  Is the campaign too graphic? Will it work? How would we know?

3.  What is the difference between anti-smoking ads targeting short-term versus long-term effects of smoking? Why is the FDA changing its strategy in this campaign?

Same old song and dance? Advertising ethics and the e-cigarette November 29, 2013

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The use of e-cigarettes is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control. An estimated 4 million Americans now use e-cigarettes, and about 10 percent of high school students in 2012 reported they had tried them. The rise of e-cigarettes, which are supposed to help smokers quite the real thing, poses an interesting problem for regulators. While cigarettes have been banned from television ads since the 1970s, e-cigarettes can be advertised without many restrictions. The distinction between the products is that e-cigarettes generate vapor rather than tobacco smoke, and the Food and Drug Administration has not yet ruled whether they can be sold or marketed to minors.

For examples of e-cigarette ads, see the following videos:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What was the legal rationale for banning certain kinds of cigarette marketing? Should that rationale apply to e-cigarettes?

2.  If e-cigarette marketing should be regulated, what kind of regulations should it face?

3.  Is there anything ethically wrong with e-cigarette marketing in general?

Not so long ago: Remembering classic cigarette ads January 5, 2013

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Just before Christmas, Advertising Age posted a story about classic cigarette ads, especially one that ran during the holiday season in the 1950s. The Lucky Strike ad referenced in the article featured the company’s classic slogan, “It’s toasted.” Moreover, and perhaps more shockingly, the spokesperson told consumers, “Friends, here’s a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone who smokes, because it says ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Smoking.'” Imagine the time: a time when advertisers could link happiness to smoking. It seems so foreign to us now.

Why don’t we see such ads today? While cigarettes have long been advertised in the United States – dating back to 1789 – the industry faced a crackdown in the 1964 when the US Surgeon General released a report linking smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, and other diseases. What ensued were mandatory warning labels and bans on radio and television ads. While the tobacco industry bounced back with alternative marketing strategies, including the use of cartoon characters in print ads to target younger consumers, the story of Big Tobacco is one of increased regulation.

To see the Lucky Strike ad referenced above, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  What’s ethically wrong with this Lucky Strike advertisement? Why would you not see something like this today?

2.  How are marketers more limited today than ever before? Are these limitations a good thing?

3.  Should tobacco ads continue to be banned? Why, or why not?