Corporate coups

This week two corporations, CVS Caremark and AT&T, made announcements that likely will help boost their images with consumers.

CVS Caremark made the bold move of ridding its pharmacies of cigarettes in a phase-out of sales of tobacco products this year. Larry J. Merlo, president and CEO of CVS, said in a release that the sale of tobacco products was inconsistent with the company’s purpose of furthering wellness.

CVS used the announcement to unveil an initiative to help smokers kick the habit. The program launches this spring.

CVS estimates it will lose $2 billion in revenue annually by taking tobacco off its shelves. That is a good chunk of change higher than the estimated loss that Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, the company’s chief medical officer, offered in a viewpoint published online Feb. 5 in JAMA. The viewpoint set the loss at $1.5 billion.

Any draft of the viewpoint had to have been reviewed by corporate staff, so what could account for the discrepancy? One possible explanation is that the viewpoint was finalized earlier and the company's estimate was revised to reflect changing sales patterns. Either way, CVS can anticipate some profits from its smoking cessation program, some of which may offset losses.

The move by CVS, which rightfully can declare itself an industry leader, may have been pre-emptive. “Municipalities in California and Massachusetts, led by San Francisco and Boston, have banned the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies,” the co-authors wrote. “Public health advocates in several states are evaluating ways of instituting state-wide prohibitions.”

Better to pay now, reap the benefits of establishing itself as part of the solution rather than the problem and get a huge public relations pop for the effort. All around, this looks like a smart move by CVS and a victory for cardiologists and others who work hard to educate patients about cardiovascular disease risk factors.  

This week AT&T also news-flashed a feather in its cap. The company announced that Eric Topol, MD, will serve as its chief medical adviser for its healthcare IT program. This is a growth opportunity for AT&T and the addition of a charismatic cardiologist with credibility in both the medical and technology sectors should be a major asset.  

What is the payoff for Topol? It may be the opportunity to bring his vision of individualized medicine to fruition with AT&T’s resources and reach. But there is a price as well, since his actions and words now will be interpreted through the prism of a corporate affiliation.   

Best case scenario, these corporate moves will be a step forward in preventive and personalized care. For now, they have a lot of PR value, which is not for naught, either.  

Candace Stuart

Cardiovascular Business, editor