Drugstores should stop selling tobacco items

Published 9:43 am Monday, April 7, 2014

Guest Column by Geoffrey Ongaga

Lung cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It accounts for 27 percent of cancer-related deaths. Approximately 85 percent of lung cancer in the USA is caused by smoking.

Geoffrey Ongaga

Geoffrey Ongaga

It has been estimated that about 7 percent of people born today will be diagnosed with lung cancer in their lifetime, and almost 6 percent will die of it. Cigarette smoking death is the primary known preventable cause of death, resulting in an estimated 437,932 deaths and 157 billion in health-related losses annually.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, the tobacco industry spent $8.4 billion on cigarette advertising and promotional expenses in the United States alone, and 83.6 percent ($7 billion) of this expenditure was spent on price discounts. Smokeless tobacco advertising and promotion rose to $451.7 million in 2011 — up from $444.2 million in 2010.

Health care providers have a professional obligation to promote the health of their patients and the public. While many health care providers have adopted the tobacco-free policies such as banning selling tobacco and smoking in their facilities, many pharmacies in the USA continue to sell tobacco products despite several recommendations made by American pharmacy organization for the last three decades.

According to the American Pharmacy Association, selling tobacco products contradicts the role of the pharmacy as a public health facility. The goal of the pharmacist is to put patients first.

Lung cancer will remain a public health problem in the United States if nothing is being done.

One way of addressing this problem is through banning all drugstores and pharmacies from selling tobacco products and join smoking cessation initiatives. It is against professional conduct of the pharmacist to sell tobacco products. Drugstores are supposed to sell medication to people to cure or manage their health conditions.

In fact, some drug stores like CVS offer MinuteClinics, which are run by health care professionals who treat and give health advice to their customers how to manage chronic conditions such as blood pressure, heart disease and high cholesterol, all which are associated with smoking.

Tobacco sales in pharmacies raise ethical questions since tobacco is the only consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill about 50 percent of its long-term users. It is unethical for drugstores to sell tobacco products linked to a number of chronic diseases, at the same time sell products that help people to quit smoking and manage their chronic conditions.

Pharmacies are part of the health care system, and their primary role is helping people to become healthy or manage their diseases. If drugstores are in the business engaged in providing health care and promoting health, it is hypocritical to sell tobacco products to their customers. Drugstores and pharmacies should decide whether they want to sell tobacco or drugs because these two cannot go together in the same setting.

Drugstores are one of the convenient places for most people to buy tobacco. If drugstores stop selling tobacco and start advising people to manage their health condition, most people will quit smoking and, as a result this will reduce tobacco-related deaths, heart disease, cancer as well as reduce health care cost.

Banning tobacco products from pharmacies and stores containing pharmacies is a good public health policy because it reduces the numbers and locations of stores that sell tobacco, which will decrease the social acceptability of tobacco and change the social norm of tobacco use.

Ending the selling of tobacco products in drugstores and pharmacies will make it less convenient to purchase tobacco, reduce sales point of promotion and acceptability. Retail pharmacies work closely with hospitals, doctors and insurers to make people healthier by selling healthy products and promoting healthy lifestyles to their customers.

On the other hand, they sell products that make people unhealthy. Selling tobacco products, pharmacies convey tacit approval to their purchase and use; in turn, it sends a mixed message to consumers who typically patronize pharmacies to receive health care services.

Other municipalities around the country have begun to enact legislation governing where cigarettes can be sold. The state, local and federal government should follow suit in enacting laws governing where tobacco products are sold.

California banned the selling of tobacco products in pharmacies, and it has seen the benefits of it. Since that legislation was passed, many people have quit smoking.

Those who oppose the banning of tobacco products in drugstores argue that the move will impact revenue in their sales.

This is not true. Pharmacies in California did not see any significant loss in revenue. Instead, they sold more products that helped people to stop smoking, which offset the lost revenues from not selling tobacco products.

Last month CVS pharmacies dropped selling tobacco products, and they have identified many ways of increasing their sales by working closely with other health care providers to help make people healthier. CVS owns MinuteClinic in their stores, which provide health care services to patients.

Banning drugstores and pharmacies from selling tobacco products will reduce location places where people purchase cigarettes. As a result, many people will quit smoking hence, reducing lung cancer, tobacco-related deaths, heart diseases and health care costs.


Albert Lea resident Geoffrey Ongaga has a degree in nursing and is a graduate student studying to be an adult nurse practitioner at the University of North Dakota.