Everett board bans sale of tobacco in drugstores

City bans tobacco sales in pharmacies

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / June 10, 2010

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Starting next week, smokers will find it a little less convenient to pick up a pack of cigarettes in Everett.

Hoping to deliver another blow against smoking, the Board of Health on May 24 voted unanimously to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. The ban, which takes effect next Tuesday, also applies to business establishments that include pharmacies, according to Heidi Porter, Everett’s public health director.

“Pharmacies and drugstores that sell tobacco products are essentially approving of the purchase and use of tobacco. And we think that sends a mixed message to consumers who are going to these pharmacies really for health care services,’’ Porter said, of what prompted the ban. “The bottom line is that these pharmacies are health care establishments.’’

The ban, which took the form of a revision to the board’s tobacco regulation, prohibits tobacco sales in any health care institution or establishments containing them, with “health care institution’’ defined to include pharmacies and drugstores.

Porter said since hospitals and medical offices in this area do not sell tobacco products, the ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies and businesses containing them was the key change. The revised ordinance also bans tobacco vending machines except in private clubs.

Everett becomes the fifth Massachusetts community to bar the sale of tobacco in pharmacies.

Boston led the way in December, 2008 when it became the second city in the country — the first was San Francisco — to adopt such a ban. The Boston ban, which took effect in February 2009, was part of a larger tightening by the city of its tobacco restrictions.

Similar bans on tobacco sales in pharmacies followed in Needham, Uxbridge, and Newton, according to Jason Dodd, director of the 5-City Tobacco Control Collaborative, a partnership among the health boards of Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Revere, and Somerville that works to develop and enforce anti-tobacco policies.

He said the Somerville Health Department is expected to put the idea of a ban in that city before its board after the start of the new fiscal year July 1.

Dr. Sean F. Connolly, chairman of the Everett Board of Health, said the board felt “it is hard to justify the paradox of a health care institution — which these pharmacies and stores with pharmacies are defined as — that is practicing good health and making people healthy through medications, being able to sell cigarettes, which are known carcinogens.’’

But Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his group opposes the bans that have been adopted in Everett and the other communities.

“As long as it’s a legal product, it seems to me consumers ought to have the choice of buying it at the store that they like to shop at,’’ he said, adding that communities adopting such rules ought to lose some of the funding they receive from the state’s cigarette tax to pay for anti-tobacco programs.

Everett has three pharmacies or establishments with pharmacies that have permits from the board to sell tobacco products, according to Porter.

She said the three — Walgreens, on Ferry Street; Rite-Aid, on Broadway; and Costco, on Mystic View Road — are being notified that they must remove tobacco products from their shelves by next Tuesday.

At an April 20 hearing the board held in considering the regulation, and at the May 24 meeting, representatives from Costco and Walgreens spoke against the change. Connolly said the two companies raised concerns about the financial impact of the ban on their establishments. He said the Costco representatives also noted that it would be virtually impossible for a minor to purchase cigarettes at Costco because it is a member-only business.

But Connolly said those arguments did not sway the board, which he said was focused on public health considerations.

“I see on a daily basis in my office the effects of cigarette smoking,’’ said Connolly, a podiatrist. “So it doesn’t take much to convince me that this is the right idea.’’

Kevin Horst, general manager of the Everett Costco store, said, “We certainly support the idea of stopping teens from smoking, but at this time we don’t have a comment on this specific regulation as it is written. We are exploring options.’’

Robert Elfinger, spokesman for the Walgreens corporation, said, “We intend to comply with the new law.’’

Speaking in favor of the ban at the hearing were members of Teens in Everett Against Substance Abuse, a local youth group that advocates for measures to address substance abuse issues in the city.

Members of the group, an initiative of the Cambridge Health Alliance, offered statistics on the negative impacts of tobacco on human health, and spoke of the disconnect between tobacco products and a pharmacy, said program director Jean Granick.

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