Banned in Boston?

Published in CSP Daily News

Regulators considering first statewide prohibition on tobacco sales in pharmacies

BOSTON -- Massachusetts health regulators said yesterday that they will consider banning the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies across the state, a prohibition that, officials believe, would make Massachusetts the first to take such action, reported the Boston Globe.

The proposal would mirror regulations already in place in 19 communities in Massachusetts, including Boston, Worcester, Lowell, and New Bedford, officials said. Brookline is scheduled to vote on the issue in a town meeting next week.

"I see a real hypocrisy in having to fill your prescription for a smoking cessation product and having to walk by all the counters with cigarettes,'' said Dr. Alan Woodward, past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a member of the state Public Health Council, an appointed panel of doctors, consumer advocates and professors.

Woodward, who proposed the ban, also chairs his local board of health in Concord, which is currently considering a similar tobacco prohibition, said the report.

Woodward said that state lawmakers have considered banning tobacco sales in pharmacies but have failed to act on the issue.

"We have now seen a bump up in the number of young smokers, so it's time to consider what would be the appropriate next steps that have been successful in many communities,'' he said.

Michael DeAngelis, spokesperson for CVS/pharmacy, said in a statement cited by the Globe that the sale of tobacco products is a challenging issue because its pharmacies are health care providers. "A percentage of our customers choose to use tobacco products, and they are legal for adults to purchase,'' he said. "We make these products available for the convenience of our adult customers, but we do not advertise or promote them.''

He said cigarettes are placed behind the counter so customers must ask for them, and they are generally stocked alongside smoking cessation products. DeAngelis said there are no statewide bans on tobacco sales in drugstores in any of the 41 states in which the company operates pharmacies.

Todd Brown, executive director of the Massachusetts Independent Pharmacists Association, told the newspaper that most of the group's members do not sell tobacco products in their stores. The organization has remained neutral on the issue.

"We see why people would not want pharmacies to sell tobacco because they are areas in which health care is provided,'' Brown said. "But we have not seen any evidence that restricting sales at pharmacies reduces access, because people can go to the grocery store or gas station next door to get the products.''

Public Health Council member Paul Lanzikos, executive director of North Shore Elder Services, said he agreed with the idea of a ban, but worried about a potential backlash from tobacco companies. "There is success in the slow, incremental approach that has not invited significant opposition,'' Lanzikos told the paper. "But if this [regulation] covered the entire state, that might invite in the big guns, because this would establish a precedent, so I would want to think through the strategy.''

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest tobacco company, did not return a call from the Globe seeking comment.

The council voted unanimously to direct the state Department of Public Health to further investigate the proposal, and to consult with various specialists on the issue, including officials from communities that have adopted such regulations.

Council members said they would likely take up the issue again in a month or two.