Should cigarette sales go back to pharmacies?

A New Zealand study suggests that only tobacconists—and pharmacies—should sell cigarettes

New University of Otago research has examined the views of smokefree experts throughout New Zealand, and suggested that restricting access could help reduce tobacco-related harms.

But the Chairman of Action on Smoking and Health New Zealand says that’s “a bit much” to ask of pharmacists.

University of Otago’s Dr Lindsay Robertson, the study’s lead researcher, found after in-depth interviews with 25 experts working in academia, public health, Māori and Pacific health and smoking cessation, that they viewed a large reduction in the number of places selling tobacco as critical to achieving the NZ Government’s 2025 smokefree goal.

“Most experts had worked in the smokefree area for a long time and provided first-hand insights into the problems caused by tobacco being sold so widely,” says Dr Robertson.

Those problems included more sales to minors and a greater risk of children using tobacco, and undermining smokers’ attempts to quit.

Participants held very consistent views on where tobacco should and should not be sold in the long term.

“Our participants believed that allowing tobacco sales only from a very small number of places – whether an R18 tobacco-only store, or a pharmacist – in each district, and ensuring these outlets were located away from schools, was an important strategy for realising the 2025 goal,” Dr Robertson says.

The experts interviewed for the study considered licensing of tobacco retailers one way in which changes to tobacco retailing could be introduced.

The researchers say their earlier research with retailers found they wanted a level playing field that did not disadvantage them relative to other retailers.

We believe the Government needs urgently to consider solutions that will both help achieve the 2025 smokefree goal, and keep retailers safe,” says Dr Robertson.

“Removing tobacco from all current outlets, and allowing it to be sold only from a small number of specialised outlets with appropriate security would create the level playing field retailers seek and would not disadvantage one type of shop over another.”

But Professor Emeritus Robert Beaglehole told TVNZ’s Breakfast program that while he supported reducing access to cigarettes, pharmacy was probably not the answer.

“I think it’s a possibility that has some merit … I doubt whether it’s going to take off in this country,” he told host Hilary Barry.

“I think it’s much better that cigarettes, if they are restricted seriously, to be sold only in specialised shops, as they used to be, tobacconists.

“It’s a bit much to ask pharmacists to take on this role … put them into a small number of secure locations.”

Internationally the trend is to move away from pharmacy tobacco sales: in 2014, US chain CVS Health became the first national retail pharmacy chain to stop selling tobacco products in all its stores.

Its research later found that since the move, there had been a downward trend in cigarette consumption in states where CVS had 15% or more share of the retail pharmacy market.

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