Albany County Legislature mulls tobacco ban in pharmacies

Posted at: 04/23/2013 11:36 PM
By: Dan Levy

ALBANY - Does government have the right to prohibit certain retail stores from selling a product that is perfectly legal to sell? That was the issue Tuesday night before the Albany County Legislature, which will soon decide whether to ban the sale of any tobacco products in pharmacies.

If Albany County were to pass such a law, it would become the first county in New York State to boot smokers out of their pharmacies if they wish to continue feeding their habit.

Among the more than two dozen speakers who were anxious to separate tobacco products from pharmacy shelves was Niskayuna High School student Ella Sciocchetti.

"A pharmacy should be a place insolated from the manipulative marketing practices of big tobacco," Sciocchetti asserted.

For Albany College of Pharmacy student Jessica Ramich, seeing tobacco side-by-side with health remedies is a big problem.

"It is an ethical dilemma for pharmacies to profit from harmful products in addition to providing goods and services to better their health," Ramich said, adding that it would violate the code of conduct pharmacists need to adhere to.

"They want to play it at both ends," said Michael Seserman, of the New York State Public Health Association. "They want to have their cake and eat it too by selling a product that causes cancer and heart disease and then make even more money by selling products that will treat people with those conditions."

Michael Rosen, who represents the Food Industry Alliance, which includes all major supermarket chains in the Capital Region, says the bill unfairly punishes responsible retailers.

"We know that our shopper wants to have a full shopping experience and have one stop shopping," Rosen said. "If they can't get it in Albany County they're going to get it some where else."

Jim Calvin of the New York State Association of Convenient Stores says because of the way the bill is worded, his industry would also be negatively impacted.

"Any retail establishment with Tylenol on its shelf would be classified as a pharmacy under this statute and thus forbidden from carrying any tobacco products," Calvin pointed out.

But the speakers at Tuesday night's public hearing were overwhelmingly and passionately against tobacco and pharmacies together under one roof.

"Cleary more residents and more consumers are turning to their pharmacists for their health care needs," said Julianne Hart of the American Heart Association. "They shouldn't be selling something to make them diseased."

"Does our society really value profits that much more then they value people's health?" Cohoes High School student Alysha Gagnon asked rhetorically. "Is this the message we want to send to kids like me and my classmates? I sincerely hope not."

In Massachusetts, where 56 communities have already prohibited tobacco sales in pharmacies, not one has been challenged.

Legislator Tim Nichols, who first introduced the bill about a year ago, said the local bill may still need to be tweaked, but he expects a vote from the full legislature within the next couple of months.