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Sale of tobacco products is incompatible with the healthful goal of pharmacies

The effort in Erie County to ban stores with pharmacies from selling cigarettes and e-cigarettes would close the “disconnect” that allows stores dedicated to health to sell a product that damages health.

Along the way, it might also save some taxpayer money. Realistically, most smokers would probably find another place to buy their smokes, but a few may be encouraged to quit.

If that happens, the public would be relieved of some of the health costs stemming from the long-term effects of smoking cigarettes. Or the still-to-be-determined effects of e-cigarettes, found to have levels of formaldehyde and heavy metals.

Tobacco-related products do not belong in any pharmacy, and County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has made it his goal to be the first county in New York State to ban them.

It isn’t hard to imagine someone going into a retail establishment that has a pharmacy, getting a prescription drug to deal with the aches and pains, or worse, brought on by chronic smoking and then stopping for a pack of cigarettes before heading out the front door. As Poloncarz says, “It makes no sense.”

There is a downside to the ban. Small pharmacies that sell tobacco will take a hit to the bottom line. The point of the ban is not to hurt these businesses but to work toward the collective good by agreeing that the sale of cigarettes and e-cigarettes flies in the face of one of their duties – keeping people healthy.

San Francisco became the first city to ban the sale of cigarettes and related tobacco products from retail stores with pharmacies in 2010. Since then other communities in California and Massachusetts have enacted their own bans, along with at least one county in Minnesota. Moreover, most Canadian provinces ban the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies. Ontario, in 1994, was the first to do so.

Some pharmacy retailers around here have voluntarily stopped selling tobacco products. Among the notable outlets: CVS, Target and Wegmans. CVS knew what it was getting into when it decided to end what it viewed as a counterintuitive business model. The company has paid the price in a reported multibillion-dollar loss in general sales, although its overall revenue remained robust last year.

This isn’t about profits and the bottom line, but health. Granted, it is a lot easier for the big players to take a stand involving a niche product. Small, local retailers will take a disproportionate hit. No one wants that and perhaps county leaders can figure out a way to help these businesses survive in a post-nicotine sales environment.

County Legislator Peter Savage, D-Buffalo, will sponsor the county executive’s proposal in the Erie County Legislature. Poloncarz is absolutely right about the industry pressure that would be applied against the measure to block what would be a landmark effort in Erie County. Concern that the campaign could catch fire would certainly motivate lobbyists.

Poloncarz has promised not to fold on the issue. The Erie County Legislature should make the same pledge.