Tobacco is still the number one cause of preventable death in the US, killing more Americans each year than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, drugs, and fires combined. It's the only consumer product that can kill people when used as intended, and it definitely doesn't belong in pharmacies.
Which is probably why in 2014, CVS Pharmacy -- the largest pharmacy chain in the country -- took a huge step in advocating for public health by removing all tobacco products from its stores. As the longest-running and most successful tobacco-prevention campaign in the US, truth couldn't have been more thrilled by the news. But it also sprung us into action. We needed to put pressure on Walgreens -- the second-largest pharmacy chain in the US -- to ditch tobacco products, too.
We called on our audience to rally behind this cause and send a message that Walgreens couldn't ignore -- tobacco products aren't "at the corner of happy and healthy," and they don't belong in pharmacies. As a public health education and awareness campaign, we didn't have a ton of experience with direct action advocacy. We weren't sure if we could charge our audience to take action the same way that we could get them to like, share, and comment on social media. But we knew that with their voices, Walgreens would have to take a stance. So we set out to garner at least 2,500 petition signatures, 50 phone calls to Walgreens HQ, and one on-the-ground protest event.
Our overarching strategy was simple: bombard Walgreens with a plea that they couldn't ignore, and expose the hypocrisy of a pharmacy chain still selling tobacco in 2018.
We set up three initial calls to action in our effort to get tobacco products off Walgreens shelves. First, we had users sign an online petition urging the pharmacy giant to consider the fact that a product as deadly and addictive as tobacco doesn't belong in a store dedicated to health and wellness. Then, we challenged petition signers to take their activism a step further by calling Walgreens HQ with the same call to action: take tobacco off the shelves. We provided a script and a direct call button on our site and sent it to everyone who signed the initial petition. Lastly, as we saw our number of petition signers and callers grow, we wanted to provide our activists with a way to rep the cause in true truth fashion -- rowdy, provocative, and impossible to ignore.
Together with our activists, we staged a zombie protest and flooded a downtown Washington, DC Walgreens with youth activists dressed as ghastly, gory zombies. Our activists held signs that read, "Tobacco and pharmacies don't mix," but the true message was seeing how out-of-place these deadly zombies looked in a store dedicated to health and wellness. Plus, we allowed activists who couldn't be with us on-the-ground the opportunity to stand in solidarity by uploading a photo to our zombie wall using a custom truth zombie filter.
We set a goal of garnering 2,500 petition signatures on our plea to Walgreens. By the end of our effort, we saw a total of 9,004 signatures between two separate petition pushes. We hoped that at least 50 people would pick up the phone and give Walgreens a call -- ultimately, our activists made 122 phone calls to their HQ. And our zombie protest -- the main event -- featured 120 youth activists, some of whom even led their own zombie protests in cities across the US. We even had 695 people upload zombie selfies to our website using a custom filter to show their support.
But the numbers hardly speak to the best result we saw -- Walgreens HQ actually listened. Right now, they've completely removed tobacco from all 17 stores in Gainesville, Florida as part of a pilot program. We're confident that we'll see tobacco come completely off of Walgreens shelves in the next few years, because we're not backing down any time soon.
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