cigaretteThe CVS Health Foundation announced Thursday that it will donate $5 million to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, to launch its “Making the Next Generation Tobacco-Free” grant program.

The announcement comes exactly one year after CVS Health announced its landmark decision to became the first national pharmacy chain to end sales of cigarette and other tobacco products at its more than 7,800 retail stores.

The new program will provide grants to organizations committed to implementing public health strategies to reduce youth tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, especially among at-risk populations.

“We are proud to partner with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids … to empower youth and provide them with the resources needed to reduce tobacco use,” Eileen Howard Boone, president of CVS Health Foundation, said in a statement.

The first grant recipients will be announced March 18 on the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ annual Kick Butts Day.

“Together with the CVS Health Foundation, we hope we can raise even more awareness of the serious problem of tobacco use that virtually always begins with youth and accelerate progress toward our shared vision of a tobacco-free generation,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

Nearly nine out of 10 smokers pick up the habit by age 18, according to the Surgeon General’s 2012 report on youth and smoking. Although secondhand smoke exposure in the United States fell by half between 1999 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that exposure remains higher among children. Two in five children between the ages of 3 and 11 are exposed to secondhand smoke, including seven in 10 black children, the report found.

The award gained immediate praise from American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown, who serves on the board of directors for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Our children deserve a chance to grow up without being lured into tobacco use or forced to breathe in secondhand smoke,” said Brown. “We applaud CVS Health for working toward a tobacco-free environment for kids — an environment that can save them from a future of life-threatening health problems caused by tobacco.

“Keeping our children safe from deadly tobacco products is just the right thing to do,” Brown added. “We encourage other companies and organizations to join the ongoing effort to safeguard our children’s futures.”