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NYS Legislature to Ban Selling Tobacco Products in Pharmacies

By: Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of the Rho Chi Post, Rho Chi Beta Delta Chapter, or St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  

For the past few months, I have been on rotation at New York –Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. And every day for the past few months I have passed by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on my way to the hospital. I often think about this experience. What seems like a routine trip to rotations to me, is probably the most arduous and devastating trip another has to make. And then I see something else: a person in a white lab coat or scrubs standing a few feet away from the door and smoking. Quite frankly, the irony never fails to make me angry. I wonder whether that person realizes that they are smoking in front of one of the most famous cancer treatment facilities in the United States.  And then, just as my sense of self-righteous outrage is reaching its peak, I think to myself, that person could have bought those cigarettes from any of the dozen pharmacies in the area. In fact, a pharmacy would probably be the most convenient location to grab a pack of cigarettes.

On the day that pharmacists graduate they take an oath to make “welfare of humanity” their primary concern. That does not imply that pharmacists infringe on people’s freedom to inhibit their self-harming habits, but they do not need to be catalysts for that kind of behavior either. The fact that community chains that function primarily under the title of a “pharmacy” sell a profoundly carcinogenic substance should be outrageous to any health care professional.  It is hard to give effective smoking cessation counseling when the patient sees that the same people who encourage him to quit are also selling tobacco products. (Note to all younger students: If you have a pathology question that asks “Which of these diseases could be caused by smoking?”, there is a very solid chance that the answer is “All of the above”).

One aspect of pharmacy is a business. But, it is not only a business. It is a community’s first line of defense on public health issues. Health care professionals should hold themselves to a higher standard. Health care professionals should not sell products that serve absolutely no useful purpose and only cause harm.  Cigarettes not only harm the individual but the second-hand harm is inhaled by all individuals within proximity of the smoker.

The New York State Legislature seems to agree that tobacco products have no place in pharmacies. In February 2012, Assemblymen Titone and Weprin and Senator Lanza introduced a bill to their respective legislative chambers that would ban pharmacies from selling cigarettes and other tobacco products.  This prohibition includes stores that include a pharmacy as a department as long as there is only one corridor or hallway that allows access to the pharmacy. This bill, currently labeled as S6506 in the Senate and A8839 in the Assembly, was referred to the public health committee in each respective chamber after introduction and is currently under review.

Also, another concern of the lawmakers was that minors, who are allowed to work in community pharmacy establishments, would have access to tobacco products. They may use their employment at the pharmacy to purchase cigarettes for themselves or sell the product to their friends who are also minors.  This bill will hopefully eliminate the role that pharmacies are playing in the sale of tobacco and return pharmacists to their rightful roles as promoters of public health.

For more information regarding this bill, please visit:





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