Pharmacies, hospitals, health clinics or any big box store with working pharmacists on site would be prohibited from selling cigarettes under a plan approved by a legislative committee.
Lawmakers who filed the bill said they modeled it after a Boston city ordinance passed in 2009 that prohibits pharmacies from selling tobacco products. A handful of other communities across the state have similar bans, including Everett, Fall River, Lancaster, Needham, Newton, and Southborough.
Bill supporters say a statewide restriction of tobacco sales will send a more consistent public health message. But retailers who oppose the plan said it is not government’s role to tell store owners they cannot sell a legal product - one which creates tax revenue with the cigarette sales tax, retailers said.
Sen. Susan Fargo, who filed the bill (S 1094), said it is “counter-productive” to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products at pharmacies given their focus on making people healthy. Fargo (D-Lincoln) was one the chief architects of the statewide workplace smoking ban which went into effect 2004. The proposed law would restrict the sale of tobacco products at all locations where health professionals are employed, including large chain pharmacies or grocery stores with pharmacies inside them.
“It speaks directly to the public health, taking out the conflict and contradictory nature in the health care setting,” said Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, (D-Jamaica Plain) a co-sponsor of the bill and co-chairman of the Public Health Committee, which endorsed the legislation last Thursday. “By selling cigarettes in a pharmacy, they are selling products that are in direct contradiction of promoting the public health.”
The statewide retailers’ association plans to fight the proposal.
“We feel it is discriminatory toward pharmacies,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers’ Association of Massachusetts. “These are stores that have customers that are looking for a variety of goods - could be candy, could be tobacco.”
“It is taking away an important and legal consumer product line. I think it sets somewhat of a bad precedent. They are saying these stores can’t sell tobacco. Next are they going to say these stores cannot sell soda and candy?” he said.
The bill cleared the same panel last session but stalled in the Health Care Financing Committee.
A spokesman for CVS Caremark Corp., based in Woonsocket, R.I., said the pharmacy chain is aware of the proposed ban, but would not comment on the company’s view of the law.
“We acknowledge the sale of tobacco products is a challenging issue” for pharmacies, said CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis. “Our customers who choose to use tobacco products we make them available to those customers. We stock them alongside smoking cessation products.”
DeAngelis said CVS stores already adhere to the ban in Massachusetts communities where it is in effect.
Hurst said he understands the desire to prevent sales at health care facilities, but said it doesn’t make sense to outlaw cigarette sales at stores like CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, or Stop & Shop.
“Some grocery stores have pharmacies. They would not be allowed to sell cigarettes,” Hurst said.
Another of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), said she “would not be broken-hearted” if some large retail chains could no longer sell cigarettes. Provost said the state already restricts the sale of another legal product: alcohol.
“There are strong limitations in Massachusetts on selling alcohol. It is very restricted,” Provost said, citing restrictions limited licenses available to grocery store chains.
Provost has a more personal reason for wanting to see tobacco sales limited, she said. As a little girl, her mother would often send her to the corner store to buy her a pack of cigarettes, something that made her feel like she was on a “grown-up errand,” she said.
“I didn’t know they were bad for you,” she said. Now, at 84, her mother lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic lung infection, and had cancer, Provost said.
“I don’t think I am the only person in the building (State House) that has seen the devastation of people smoking cigarettes,” she said. “I know they are legal. I know people make money off selling tobacco and growing tobacco. I don’t feel good about that.” If cigarettes sales are restricted, Provost said, she hopes cigarette sales will drop.
~ Bostonherald.com ~