CVS Health Took the Quit Big Tobacco Pledge, But May Have a Problem: Holding Companies

Individual agencies have signed on while related organizations haven’t

CVS Health has pledged to quit working with advertising, marketing and PR agencies that work with tobacco or e-cigarette companies.

Last week, CVS Health signed on to Quit Big Tobacco, an initiative launched by global health organization Vital Strategies, pledging to quit working with advertising, marketing and PR agencies that work with tobacco or e-cigarette companies.

“CVS Health’s leadership as the first major brand to sign the Quit Tobacco Pledge sends a powerful message to the advertising, marketing and public relations communities that engaging with an industry that makes billions by harming millions will cost you,” Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, said in a statement.

A group of agencies has signed on to the Quit Big Tobacco pledge, vowing to never work with tobacco or e-cigarette companies.

CVS Health stopped selling tobacco back in September 2014, with the Quit Big Tobacco pledge marking another step toward splitting with the tobacco industry.

“Agencies that do not have tobacco or tobacco-related clients can pledge to Quit Big Tobacco, regardless of their holding companies’ other agencies,” a Vital Strategies spokesperson explained.

One agency that signed on to the Quit Big Tobacco pledge is Austin-based Omnicom agency GSD&M.

“We have a long history of getting behind issues that we believe in and for years we worked with the American Legacy Foundation on their cessation efforts, so this is something that we’re super passionate about,” GSD&M president Marianne Malina said.

“I think it’s pathetic that it’s 2019 and we’re talking about tobacco,” she said of tobacco and e-cigarette companies’ continuing advertising efforts, adding that the issue held particular weight for her as a mother of an 11-year-old. She explained that the pledge represented “positive momentum” around addressing what she defined as “a serious issue within culture and society.”

“It is a time for common sense and responsibility and knowing what you’re willing to do. The truth of the matter is there are people who put money first, and there are people who put values first and there are people who put people first,” she added. “There are all kinds of ways of doing business and there are all kinds of people in the world.”

Last summer, fellow Omnicom agency DDB reportedly won a creative review for e-cigarette company Juul, which has been criticized for allegedly targeting minors in the past.

Malina argued that this didn’t limit the effectiveness of the pledge made by GSD&M or CVS Health. “We’re all individual companies that are owned by a holding company, so our individual identities are part of how we go to market and how we operate every day. Going to the holding company level on something like this gives them a role that’s not what it’s about,” she said.

“I’m in charge of GSD&M,” she added. “I’m in charge of the people that work here and the brands that we hold. My job is not my sister agencies or Omnicom,” she added. “Because we are who we are and we have a very clear belief system, I have to live within the world of GSD&M, because that’s just the way we operate.”

Another agency who signed the pledge is New York-based agency Human, whose founder, Jonathan Olinger, explained that “Doing anything that promotes a product that kills 7 million people a year like tobacco does is diametrically antithetical to our mission.”

He shared that the agency has been approached by “some of the biggest tobacco companies in the world” who expressed a desire to work with Human.

“They often position it as trying to help save lives by promoting products that are better than cigarettes. But at the end of the day, to be frank, it is all contributing to an industry of death,” he said.

“If an agency won’t take on a cigarette brand as a client, they shouldn’t take on a vape brand. They are one and the same now,” added Anne Elisco-Lemme, executive creative director for Duncan Channon, which has also signed the pledge.

Recommended articles