Friday, August 12, 2011

Physician's Argument for Banning Tobacco Sales in Pharmacies Fails: How Will this Policy Reduce Smoking Rates?

A physician in Taunton (Massachusetts), in a letter to the editor in the Taunton Daily Gazette, presents an argument in favor of banning tobacco sales in pharmacies that is typical of many I hear in support of these policies. He argues that this policy will help reduce health care costs and premiums, secondhand smoke exposure, and cigarette butts in parking lots, as well as promote the public's health and safety and protect the city's youth.

The pediatrician writes: "I want to compliment David Riley and Gerry Tuoti on their excellent coverage and well-researched article, “Up in Ash” (Aug. 7) on the smoking incidence in Massachusetts and the alarming higher percentages of smoking in Taunton. One paragraph discusses a ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. There is momentum for this in the state; Boston has been doing it for two years. How can we, in good conscience, allow a patient to buy medication for asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia and have tobacco products at the check-out counter? The Taunton Board of Health has an opportunity to “promote the health, safety, and welfare” and protect the innocent and uneducated. Director Heather Gallant called the data “concerning.” I urge citizens who deplore increased health care costs and premiums, second-hand smoke, and cigarette butts in parking lots to contact our Board members, Drs. Burden, Nates and Bodner at 508-821-1400 to pass this measure."

The Rest of the Story

How is this policy - banning the sale of tobacco in Taunton pharmacies - going to reduce health care costs and premiums, decrease secondhand smoke, lower the number of cigarette butts, protect the public's health, and protect youth? The policy will almost certainly have no impact on tobacco sales or tobacco use, among adults or youth. Both youth and adults will easily be able to buy their cigarettes elsewhere.

There are plenty of places, besides pharmacies, where I imagine you can buy cigarettes in Taunton, including:
  • Taunton Xtra Mart
  • Cumberland Farms
  • Girlies Variety Store
  • Stop N Save Lower Price Tobacco Store
  • Broadway Mart
  • Star Food Mart
  • Pete's Mart
  • Pop's Texaco Services Station
  • Super Petroleum
  • City Citgo
  • Planet Petroleum
  • Silver City Gas
  • Taunton Mobil Mart
You can't tell me that by banning the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, you are in any way going to decrease the sale of tobacco. The policy will therefore not have any effect whatsoever on youth smoking, adult smoking, secondhand smoke exposure, cigarette butts, protecting the public's health, or protecting youth.

The only effect this policy will have is to shift tobacco sales from Taunton pharmacies over to these other tobacco outlets. Thus, the policy is not a public health policy. It is more of a "revenue redistribution" policy.

If the true goal were to significantly reduce youth smoking, then wouldn't the first object of one's action be the sale of cigarettes to youth at convenience stores and gas stations? After all, those are the locations at which youth are most likely to buy cigarettes, not pharmacies.

Not only does this policy fail to make sense and fail to have a legitimate public health justification, but it also fails to accomplish the very goals that the author of this letter claims to be trying to achieve.

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