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BC backs away from a tobacco ban in pharmacies

Last Updated Jan 21, 2018 at 6:28 pm PDT

FILE (iStock Photo)

Health groups blast the province's reasoning against banning sale of tobacco in drug stores

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – BC is the only province that doesn’t have a ban on the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, and it looks as if that won’t be changing anytime soon.

Health Minister Terry Lake is backing away from prohibiting smokes on drug store shelves, saying other jurisdictions in Canada do not have lower smoking rates than BC.

The Clean Air Coalition — which includes groups like the BC Lung Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation — is blasting Terry Lake’s reasoning, saying at the very least, banning tobacco in pharmacies sends a valuable message.

Coalition director Jack Boomer says selling tobacco in drug stores is “oxymoronic.”

“Pharmacists face an ethical dilemma when they provide cessation products to help quit smoking at the back of the store, yet at the front of the store when people are leaving, they can often purchase tobacco products,” he tells News1130.

This week in the Legislature, the health minister said he had changed his views on a ban after speaking with health officials and retailers.

“What happens is that you’ve got a Costco pharmacy that no longer can sell tobacco, a booth is set up outside to sell tobacco, essentially getting around the legislation,” said Lake during Question Period.

“There is an argument made that is if you are selling tobacco, probably the two places you should sell it are in liquor stores, where there is stringent control over the age; and in pharmacies, where there are medical practitioners, pharmacists that can talk to people that are addicted.”

But Boomer isn’t buying it.

“It’s a great argument if you sold tobacco onlly in pharmacies and it was carefully controlled. That would be incredible. But in British Columbia, about 50 per cent of all pharmacies do not sell tobacco products at the moment. As a result of that, we’d have to create a whole new regulatory system in order to make that happen and, likely, it wouldn’t work,” he says.

Boomer says BC should be in line with every other province in Canada and just bring in a ban.

“Tobacco is the only product that, when used as intended, will kill about 50 to 60 per cent of its users. It is a product unlike any other and if it were introduced today, hopefully governments would say they need to do something to prevent the sale of it. When you make it harder for people to smoke, when you create the standard in the community that it’s a unique product and unique steps should be made to purchase it, then it sends a message to the public and to children and youths.”

Boomer — who is also the director of the province’s Quit Now smoking cessation program — believes BC has the best government program in the country to help people kick smoking, including free nicotine patches and gum.

“So the government is taking amazing steps in that way… and if you restrict the number of places people can purchase tobacco, likely that will reduce the amount people will smoke,” he says.

“The government is to be commended for the good work it’s doing to assist people to quit and I think the issue with pharmacies is as much a moral and philosophical one as it is a practical one from a policy perspective.”

Many pharmacists have repeatedly asked their regulatory body to ban tobacco sales in drug stores.

Speaking during question period, NDP MLA Bruce Ralston says it’s an issue that the College of Pharmacists has tried to address, but pharmacies like London Drugs, Thrifty Foods, Rexall, and Sobeys — which are all opposed the idea — argue the college doesn’t have the authority to do that.