Drugs, But No Smokes

Given that the Senate is a tad preoccupied with other matters just now, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act may not be brought up for a vote this fall. In the meantime, though, San Francisco has passed a ban on the sale of tobacco in pharmacies starting in October 2008.

Writing in JAMA, Mitchell Katz notes that “82% of pharmacists and 72% of adult consumers surveyed in California believe that pharmacies should not sell tobacco.”

This is nothing new: in Canada, 7 provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Newfoundland-Labrador, and Prince Edward Island) have banned the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, beginning with Ontario in 1993. Of note, the ban had no negative economic impact on pharmacies in these provinces, and in fact they flourished. Indeed, Katz indicates that “97% of California consumers reported that they would continue to patronize their pharmacy as often or even more often if the pharmacy stopped selling tobacco products.”

Regarding the ubiquitous slippery slope argument, Katz notes:

Pharmacies sell other products that may be associated with adverse health effects. For instance, what about the sale of alcohol in pharmacies,given that there are 85 000 alcohol-related deaths per year in the United States?1 What about the sale of candy bars in pharmacies, given the epidemic of obesity? The difference between alcohol or food with high-fat and sugar content and tobacco is that there is no safe level of tobacco as there is with these other substances. Alcohol in moderation can be health promoting.

He goes on to add,

With a ban in place, pharmacy staff can offer the right response when customers ask for a pack of cigarettes:”I’m sorry this is a health-promoting business; we don’t sell tobacco. May I offer you advice on how to quit?”

If only academic medical centers would be so enlightened with regard to banning tobacco industry sponsorship of research and of student coursework.



  1. Andre said

    Minor nitpick: Newfoundland and Labrador is one province.

    Not minor to the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Thanks, Andre. And of course Nunavut is a territory rather than a province. – writedit

  2. madhamster said

    zerhouni’s gone! but why? sorry — irrelevant to this post but eagerly awaiting your read.

  3. writedit said

    Good night … Philip Morris is trying to sue San Francisco for violating its First Amendment rights to communicate with smokers. Specifically:

    “Although called a ban on sales, the purpose and effect of the ordinance is to suppress communications directed to adult smokers, in violation of our constitutional rights,” said Joe Murillo, vice president and associate general counsel of Altria Client Services. Altria Group Inc. is the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

    U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken denied the company’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have blocked the measure from going into effect Oct. 1 as scheduled.

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