Accounting for public health costs from tobacco sales at Walgreens.

Vote occurred January 27, 2022.

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Tobacco kills up to half of its users—more than 8 million people each year.1 Lower-income Americans smoke at triple the rate of higher-income Americans.2 US smoking-related illness costs more than $300 billion each year in direct medical care and lost productivity.3

Why it's relevant

Sales of tobacco products undermine Walgreens’ stated environmental, social, and governance purpose of “inspiring more joyful lives through better health through our contributions to healthy communities, a healthy planet, a sustainable marketplace and an inclusive workplace.”4 Given that its major competitor, CVS Health, stopped selling cigarettes in 2014, not following suit may erode the Walgreens brand and consumer trust. Additionally, diversified shareholders who pay health insurance premiums and taxes will also find that they pay for these public health costs in other aspects of their portfolios.

The proposal

Shareholders requested that the board issue a report on external public health costs caused by the consumption of tobacco products.

The outcome

Although it continues to sell tobacco products, Walgreens’ cigarette and e-tobacco sales declined 16% in 2020.5 Despite still refusing to account for the public health impact of those products, it is scaling back its focus on tobacco, ending all promotional programs for tobacco products in 2021.6 Walgreens CEO Rosalind Brewer is also considering tobacco’s future for the company.7 That it may cease sales entirely is something we believe this proposal has played a part in pushing.

The proposal failed with 11.3% of the vote.

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