First they came for the cigarettes. … Then they came for the sugary drinks. …
Then they came for the bacon. …
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz promises that it will never come to that as he tries to ban pharmacies from selling tobacco products on the grounds that such harmful items are incompatible with the health mission of drugstores.
But if smoking is addictive, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse says, are the addicts who can’t buy them at a pharmacy really going to stop smoking? Or are they going to the gas station down the block, the supermarket across the street or the convenience store on every corner – even with pharmacies offering help to quit?
The logic just doesn’t hold up.
It strikes me as one of those governmental bright ideas – like limiting gun magazines to seven rounds – that has superficial PR value for people who want to do something, anything, but that falls apart under scrutiny.
Poloncarz counters by pointing to the county’s health costs, medical experts – from the American Medical Association to Roswell Park Cancer Institute – that have supported such bans, and other communities that have enacted them.
But what seems to be lacking is any convincing evidence that such a ban actually reduces smoking, and doesn’t just inconvenience consumers.
The CVS chain stopped selling cigarettes in 2014, using the same rationale that Poloncarz cites: A drugstore shouldn’t sell such an unhealthy product.
A year after its ban took effect, CVS said, its study showed that cigarette sales dropped by 1 percent in the 13 states where the company had at least 15 percent of the market share. The chain therefore concluded that its decision actually reduced smoking, and did not just send customers to nearby stores.
However, critics noted that the company may have been blowing smoke, because cigarette sales already had been falling as a result of smoking bans, higher taxes and anti-smoking campaigns in effect before CVS enacted its sales ban.
And what about all of the other unhealthy things – junk food, 2-liter soft drinks, beer – that pharmacies sell? The county executive says he has no intention of going after sugary drinks, as then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg did in New York City, adding that he will judge things “on a case-by-case basis.”
He added: “We think this is a case that it’s important to look at and resolve.”
But what, exactly, is he resolving, with so many other venues to buy smokes?
A frontal assault on all cigarette sales on the grounds that smokers pollute the air that everyone has to breathe – without the offsetting societal benefits provided by cars, factories and other polluters – might be justifiable. But singling out one unhealthful product in one small segment of the marketplace seems like government overreach, even to fans of big government like me.
Make no mistake: As a nonsmoker, I have no sympathy for the disgusting habit. Beyond causing lung cancer, cigarettes are obviously hallucinatory, causing their users to imagine that the environment is one huge ashtray as they toss butts from cars, drop them outside building entrances and squish them on sidewalks.
But what burns me even more is government butting in where it doesn’t belong, on grounds that make no sense.