Some pharmacy chains dropping tobacco products

December 16, 2013

Many pharmacists have long contended that products that kill should not be sold in pharmacies. Now some pharmacy chains agree.

Pressure by pharmacists to remove tobacco products from pharmacies and chain stores that include pharmacies may be having results.

Pharmacists tell Drug Topics that at least five Costco outlets in Northern California have stopped selling cigarettes. And Raley’s, a large regional grocery chain in California and Nevada, is selectively dropping tobacco products.

Two Raley’s outlets in Sacramento, Calif., and one in Reno, Nev., recently removed tobacco products from shelves. Raley’s is not planning to pull tobacco sales from all of its Raley’s. Rather, the decision is being made on a store-by-store basis, said Nicole Townsend, the chain’s marketing communications director.

Pharmacists are not claiming that they convinced the chains to stop selling tobacco. Nor are the chains crediting pharmacy for the switch. They say it’s all about customer demand. 

“We are no longer selling tobacco products in three of our stores, as we’ve noted that fewer customers wanted to purchase those products in those particular stores,” Townsend said. “We look at what our customers want to buy and we were seeing fewer customers buying tobacco products. Those kind of inventory decisions are a store-by-store decision.”

Decisions by chain outlets to drop tobacco products is good news for pharmacy and public health groups that have pushed to get tobacco sales out of pharmacies. Cities in California and Massachusetts have voted to ban sales of tobacco products in pharmacies. Sales restrictions have withstood legal challenges by retailers and tobacco manufacturers.

Independent pharmacies are more likely to halt tobacco sales than chains, said Fred Mayer, president of Pharmacists Planning Services, Inc. and a member of the Drug Topics editorial advisory board. In Marin County, just north of San Francisco, no independent pharmacy carries tobacco products. Chain pharmacies in the county, as well as grocery chain outlets with pharmacy services, still sell tobacco.  

Anti-tobacco activists would like to see a local version of Canada’s experience with pharmacies and tobacco sales. The province of Alberta changed its pharmacy regulation in 2008 to require pharmacies wishing to sell tobacco products to create segregated sales areas or a kiosk. Chain retailer London Drugs halted tobacco sales rather than remodel its Alberta stores.