Prescription for a Healthy City: Making New York City Pharmacies Tobacco Free

Corporate pharmacies such as CVS and Duane Reade sell nicotine patches and gum over the counter to help you stop smoking.  Right next to them, however, you find the deadly tobacco products themselves.  Pharmacies are meant to serve our communities as wellness centers that sell medical supplies. Tobacco products should not be allowed to be sold in our pharmacies.

How prevalent and pervasive is Big Tobacco’s mark in our pharmacies?

In the summer of 2011, one of our community partners, Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), conducted an observational study on the prevalence of cigarettes and tobacco advertising in pharmacies, both chain and independent, in three NYC neighborhoods: Chinatown in Manhattan, Flushing in Queens, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.  Published by AAFE in partnership with the NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City, “Prescription for a Healthy City: Making New York City Pharmacies Tobacco Free” is now available.

The areas sampled within this study serve as socially and economically significant hubs for the Asian American community across New York City. These neighborhoods also represent a rich mix of residential and commercial uses that provided for a concentration of tobacco retailers to be sampled.

Nate’s Pharmacy, whose flagship store is in Staten Island. All seven locations throughout NYC are tobacco-free.

The study reports that many independent pharmacies are choosing to stop selling tobacco products.  Refusing to sell cigarettes and tobacco products does not substantially affect business.  For pharmacies, it could help with their marketing and branding.

In their report, AAFE concluded that the strategic placement of tobacco products perpetuates tobacco use.  Ninety-two percent of all the pharmacies that sold tobacco products had some type of interior advertising.  And the pervasive and daunting “Power Wall” we see in so many pharmacies positions tobacco products and advertising at eye-level for all purchases, especially for our youth who are twice as likely to recall tobacco marketing.  The more kids see tobacco marketing, the more likely they are to smoke.

Currently, there are more than 800 licensed pharmacies in New York City.  Most licensed pharmacists are strongly against the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.  If pharmacies sell tobacco products while promoting health and wellness, aren’t they sending a mixed message?  We believe prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies would only serve the pharmacies’ branding, encourage healthy living and reduce the number of new smokers.

Pharmacies should only sell products that promote health, not products that, when used correctly, will kill you.