The Race to Tobacco-Free Is a Relay: Working Together to Put America on a Path to Better Health

As we commemorate the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout on November 19, there is much to celebrate but also much more to be done to help people lead tobacco-free lives.

This year's campaign theme encourages smokers to quit like a champion, and become victorious over tobacco. Given the immediate health benefits that result when people take the steps to stop smoking, the Great American Smokeout may just prove out the axiom that quitters do win.

Unquestionably, the U.S. has made enormous progress in advancing the decline in smoking over the past 50 years, saving millions of lives along the way. Thanks to our partners at the American Cancer Society and countless other organizations like it, we have reduced adult smoking by more than half since the 1960s and youth smoking by a similar amount after a steep increase in the 1990s. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this month shows the smoking rate among adults now at a new low of 16.8%--down from 20.9% in 2005 and 17.8% in 2013. At the same time, public attitudes towards tobacco have also fundamentally changed, with the introduction of clean air acts and many states and cities requiring smoke-free restaurants, bars, sporting arenas, and other public places.

These statistics, and tobacco's inconsistency with helping people achieve better health, drove CVS Health to eliminate the sale of tobacco products from across our 7,900 retail pharmacy locations. Since our exit from tobacco over a year ago, our own research shows that smokers in states where CVS/pharmacy had a 15 percent or greater share of the retail pharmacy market purchased 95 million fewer packs of cigarettes. We also saw a four percent increase in nicotine patch purchases for the same period.

If anything, our actions as a company show that the private sector can have an impact, and can do more. Moreover, countless studies and research conducted by the American Cancer Society show how the health benefits begin the moment one stops smoking. From improvements to heart rate and blood pressure in just a few minutes to carbon monoxide levels in one's blood reaching normal levels in a few hours, the decision to stop smoking for one day is an important step towards a healthier life.

If we are to help Americans on their path to better health, then tobacco-free living must remain a top, public health priority. And awareness campaigns like the Great American Smokeout continue to serve as an important reminder that smokers can quit, be champions and go the distance. But our continued efforts must go beyond a single day and include continuous focus and collaboration from every part of our society - government, policy-makers, NGOs and non-profits, businesses large and small, schools and universities, and the family home.

Our path forward is clear, and our opportunity is real.

So, as we mark the Great American Smokeout, let's remain diligent in our purpose and our commitment to triumph in the race that began 50 years ago and eliminate tobacco use from every part of our lives, including where we live, work, learn, and play. By encouraging smokers to quit like champions, we can help put America on a path to better health.