Commentary: Judgment call

September 15, 2010

San Francisco had the right idea when it banned the sale of tobacco in pharmacies. Then it turned around and allowed the sale in grocery stores and big-box stores. Wal-Mart and Safeway have pharmacies, and they keep on selling cigarettes. Forcing drugstores to take the high road is a lost cause.

"Hold on." He turned and walked away. I thought that maybe he had bolted and was about to void the sale when I noticed that I had his credit card.

I went back to my chores. When he returned, he plopped down a carton of Marlboros. "Will you add these to my purchase?" He gave me a look. "Please."

I picked up the carton and studied it with a fondness that only an ex-nicotine addict can feel. I was right there in my college apartment, sitting with a pretty girl at 3 in the morning. We had run out of fresh Marlboros. We were wired on stale coffee and were down to taking the long butts from the ashtrays to get the smoke from every last centimeter. Only those who have been smokers will understand this: It was bliss. Our eyes were red and our voices were husky. We were exhausted, but we were dancing a dance that we did not want to stop.

So sorry

"I'm sorry," he said, studying me.

"What are you sorry about?" I believed I knew exactly what he was sorry about, but I wanted to hear him say it.

"I've had pharmacists refuse to sell me my smokes," he said. "They give me lectures about my COPD and what an idiot I am to smoke."

"I can't do anything to change your habits," I said. I was ready to swipe his card. "Anything else? Nicotine patches?"

He gave me a grim smile. "That's more like it. You do want me to quit smoking, right?"

"Man, I don't care what you do. There is nothing I could do short of kidnapping you and locking you up in a tobacco-free room for a month that would help."

"Don't you think I am an idiot for smoking?"

"Yes. Of course I do. Nobody in his right mind would smoke cigarettes when he has COPD."

"That's more like it. Another Daddy pharmacist." He gave me a gallows grin. "I resent your being judgmental." His chest puffed up, ready for a fight.

I chuckled. "I still think you are an idiot."

He laughed with me. He took a deep breath and let out a wheezy sigh. "I am an idiot, but I can't quit. You don't know what it is like."

"Oh yes I do."

A crusader no more

I have given up the role of crusader in this matter. I used to argue vehemently that pharmacies should not sell tobacco products, but I honestly do not care anymore. Tobacco addiction will be served. Addicts will put out $10 or $11 a pack for their Pall Malls in New York City, where the state and the city add on an excise tax. The product only costs pennies to manufacture, so there is still plenty of reason to sell it. Tobacco is a profit center.