Newsday: LI officials urge pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes

(November 18, 2010)

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November 17, 2010 by RIDGELY OCHS  

Long Island's top health officials Wednesday called on local pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes.

"It is the right thing to do. Pharmacies are an arm of the health care system," Dr. Maria Torroella Carney, Nassau's health commissioner, said Wednesday at a news conference at Hofstra University in Hempstead also attended by a Suffolk deputy health commissioner. "They receive funds from Medicare and Medicaid, and they give flu shots."

The health officials' request came on the eve of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, which encourages smokers to use the date to quit smoking.

Susan Kennedy, director of the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island said 52 percent of pharmacies statewide sell cigarettes. Only 15 percent of independent pharmacies in the state sell tobacco products, while 99 percent of big chain pharmacies sell them, she said. Efforts in recent years to get chain pharmacies to voluntarily stop selling tobacco products have made little headway, she said. "It's a conflict of interest for pharmacies," she said, referring to their role as health care providers.

After a voluntary meeting with CVS officials in July 2008 to ensure they weren't selling to minors, Carney sent a letter to CVS calling on it to voluntarily stop selling tobacco products. She said she hasn't heard back from the chain.

A CVS spokesman, Michael DeAngelis, said the drugstore sells tobacco products, "but we do not advertise them or post marketing signs that would encourage sales. Cigarettes are placed behind the counter so customers must ask for them and they are generally stocked alongside smoking cessation products."

Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreen Co., echoed CVS: "Pharmacies are responsible retailers that offer smoking cessation products alongside tobacco to give customers a healthy choice. We have always taken a very low-key approach to cigarettes - they are not promoted through advertising nor signage."

About 15 percent of Long Islanders smoke, Kennedy said, lower than the state average of 18 percent and the national average of 20.6 percent. She attributed the Island's lower rates to a close collaboration among the county health departments, the American Cancer Society,American Heart Association and American Lung Association.

Meanwhile, Kevin Dahill, chief executive of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, said about 18 of 23 Long Island hospitals are smoke-free "curb to curb" - meaning no one can smoke anywhere on the grounds - and the rest will be by June. He said only Rochester- and Albany-area hospitals have had as aggressive a smoke-free policy.

The 24th hospital on Long Island, Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is required by law to provide a smoking shelter on its campus, Dahill said.