Proposed pharmacy cigarette ban draws mixed reactions
on November 3, 2009
Richmond smokers may have to work harder to light up if a proposal to ban cigarette sales in pharmacies receives final approval tonight. Judging from local responses to the proposal, some smokers as well as nonsmokers think this is a good thing.
Two weeks ago Councilmember Jeff Ritterman introduced the proposal at the Richmond City Council meeting. Ritterman, a cardiologist for 29 years, was influenced by a similar ordinance in San Francisco. He said he felt compelled to act when the American Lung Association gave Richmond an “F” rating for air quality this year.
“I’ve seen a lot of the awful health consequences of smoking. It came on my radar screen,” he said.
The council voted to consider approving the proposal at a future meeting. There was only one dissenting vote, from Councilmember Nathaniel Bates.
“I don’t think any business should be denied the opportunity to compete,” Bates told Richmond Confidential.
According to Ritterman, the proposal will be clarified at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Retail establishments registered as pharmacies with the State Board of Equalization will come under the ban. Supermarkets like Safeway and Costco will not.
“We can’t make it impossible for people to smoke,” Ritterman said. “There has to be some place for people to get cigarettes as long as it’s legal. [But] it doesn’t make sense for people to buy cigarettes where they get their health needs.”
Locally owned Civic Center Pharmacy and Central Pharmacy do not sell cigarettes. However, Walgreens and CVS do.
At the front of the Walgreens on Macdonald Street a few days after the ban was proposed, an employee was refilling an empty shelf with packs of Camel filtered cigarettes. Sonja West approached and requested two packs of Pall Mall.
Clutching the crimson packs, West said, “I smoke cigarettes, but I don’t think they should sell them at pharmacies. They should keep them at liquor and convenience stores. You go to pharmacies to get medicine. It seems kind of hypocritical .”
A Walgreens employee who asked that her name not be used agreed with West.
“It’s a conflict of interest. Pharmacies should sell products to help people,” she said.
At the back of the store, pharmacist Abe Stephen took a break from the intake window where customers place their orders and receive consultations. Two of his assistants were busy sliding pills into bottles and printing out labels.
Stephen is not a smoker, but he didn’t think the ban was a good idea. “We’re just a business. We provide cigarettes for those that want them,” he said. “If they go next door to Foods Co. to buy cigarettes and pick up a few other things then we’ve lost that sale.”
Outside in the parking lot, Donna Jackson stopped while on the way to her car. As a non-smoker, she said, she was indifferent to the proposal. But after pausing for a few seconds she said, “That makes sense. If I had my way there would be no cigarettes for anybody anywhere.”
A few doors down from Walgreens Rebecca Archer, a cashier at Foods Co., was taking a smoke break. She took a few drags on her cigarette while chatting with a co-worker. Archer wasn’t worried.
“When I’m in a pharmacy I don’t think about cigarettes. I always buy mine at the smoke shop,” she said, pointing across the street to Discount Cigarettes.
Jamal K., who declined to give his last name, smiled when he heard about the proposed ban. Jamal K. runs Discount Cigarettes with his relatives.
“That would be great. Pharmacies [like Walgreens] are big corporations and offer discounts on cigarettes. Our sales have gone down over the years.”
A carton of Marlboro cigarettes is $49 at Discount Cigarettes. Richmond Smoke Shop charges $49.99. The same carton costs $46.13 at Walgreens.
“So how soon before this ban starts?” Jamal asked eagerly.
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