This month, Walgreens’ webpage cheerfully chirps “Celebrate Heart Health Month” as it promotes its long-standing fundraising partnership with the American Heart Association. Until February 28, Walgreens says, customers can “purchase a paper heart at any of our 7,000 Walgreens stores nationwide” to support the American Heart Association’s mission of “building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.” It all sounds happy and wonderful, but don’t be fooled. Walgreens’ promotion has a dark underbelly that it would rather you not see.
Walgreens says it promotes heart health, while continuing to also sell the single biggest cause of heart disease: cigarettes. Walgreens even goes to lengths to downplay smoking as a major cause of heart disease on its website. Check this out: Walgreens’ “Heart Health FAQ” page, another happy-talk web page, has a photo of apple with a cute little heart in it and the tagline, “Make your whole heart happy with small steps that can make a difference.” You would think THIS page would contain information about the part quitting smoking plays in preventing heart disease.
Nope. Instead, here’s the only mention Walgreens makes of smoking:
Q. When is the best time to check my blood pressure at home?
A: Monitoring at home is easy. To ensure an accurate reading, do not measure within 30 minutes of exercise, eating, smoking, drinking alcohol or bathing.
As one of the country’s biggest cigarette outlets, Walgreens is an ally of the tobacco industry and thus cares absolutely nothing about customers’ health.
Walgreens’ partnership with the tobacco industry goes back at least until 1977, when David Carlson, then Manager of Walgreens’ News and Information Services, wrote Horace Kornegay, President of the Tobacco Institute, volunteering Walgreens as a tool the industry could use to help fool the public into believing smoking wasn’t harmful.
Carlson wrote to Kornegay,
“…we at Walgreens are exploring the possibilities of an information program which will help both the tobacco industry and ourselves … as an established ‘health center’ there are many, many things we can do to ‘gain and maintain the understanding and support of the public.'”
Prior to writing this letter, Carlson had already professed Walgreens’ interest in providing every possible assistance to the tobacco industry to help it “get the true word put about” that cigarettes weren’t harmful to health.
Cigarette promotions not only help Walgreens sell more cigarettes, but other products as well. Take for example this Philip Morris promotion of Virginia Slims at 1,500 Walgreens stores nationwide. “During the promotion,” Philip Morris’ contract with Walgreens states, “consumers will be eligible to receive a $2.00 savings at checkout on ‘cosmetics/beauty care’ items when they purchase a carton of VIRGINIA SLIMS. Walgreens’ retail support of this promotion is crucial to the success of the program, particularly for Walgreens’ stores to benefit from the additional sale of ‘beauty care’/’cosmetic’ items.”
That was in 1992. The first Surgeon General’s report to definitively conclude smoking causes cancer came out 28 years before that, in 1964. More Surgeon General’s reports were issued in the 1980s alerting the public, including Walgreens, that smoking is addictive in the same manner has heroin and cocaine, and that secondhand smoke is harmful to nonsmokers, so by 1992 Walgreens had had PLENTY of official notice that cigarettes are both addictive and harmful. But the drug chain chose to continue selling them.
Walgreens claims an interest in people’s health, and at the same time continues to sells an addictive product that kills people when used exactly as intended. Given this fraud, why isn’t the drug store chain afraid of lawsuits by sick smokers who purchased their cigarettes at Walgreens? Because it has no need to be afraid. Walgreens is protected by secret indemnification agreements with tobacco companies in which the cigarette makers agree to pay any and all legal costs Walgreens might incur from personal injury lawsuits brought against them by sick and dying customers who purchased their cigarettes at Walgreens.
And that brings us to the American Heart Association’s relationship with Walgreens. AHA’s fundraising partnership with Walgreens brings AHA lots of money. That’s clearly the reason, sad as it is, that AHA continues to maintain it. AHA’s partnership in Walgreens’ annual “heart health” promotion helps Walgreens keep fooling the public into believing the drug chain really cares about peoples’ health. It doesn’t. All it cares about is profits. What we are witnessing in this promotion is AHA selling its credibility to Walgreens for cold, hard cash. The PR tactic behind this unseemly alliance is called “healthwashing.” The American Heart Association is helping Walgreens healthwash the chain’s continued profiteering from the sale of deadly cigarettes.