Study finds support for pharmacy tobacco sales


A quarter of pharmacies would strongly consider selling tobacco if pharmacy was its only legal outlet, a new study has found

In recent years, New Zealand and international stakeholders have floated several potential ways to move towards smoke-free goals, including the possibility of restricting tobacco sales to the pharmacy channel.

The concept was raised last year by University of Otago researcher Dr Lindsay Robertson, who conducted in-depth interviews with 25 health experts and found that restricting accessibility was seen as critical.

The experts supported restrictions such as allowing sales only in limited numbers of R18 tobacco-only stores or pharmacies, located away from schools.

In Iceland, a private member’s bill was introduced in 2011, which proposed a 10-year action plan that would see permitted channels reduce until in the last year, only pharmacies would be able to sell tobacco.

Sales could then be combined with advice on smoking cessation. This plan has not been implemented.

Now, Frederieke Sanne Petrović-van der Deen and Nick Wilson, also from the University of Otago, have explored the attitudes of New Zealand pharmacists towards such schemes, conducting interviews at 30 pharmacies in Wellington.

They found that not only were a quarter very likely to sell tobacco if pharmacies were the only legal outlet for its sale, but also that this proportion increased to over a third if the strategy had been proven to work elsewhere in the world.

“A minority of 26% of all participating pharmacists (95%CI: 13% to 44%) thought it was ‘very likely’ to ‘extremely likely’ that their pharmacy would sell tobacco if pharmacies were made the only permitted type of retail outlet in New Zealand, and 17% (95%CI: 6% to 33%) thought it was ‘somewhat likely’,” the authors wrote.

“These percentages increased to 37% (95%CI: 21% to 55%) and 43% (95%CI: 27% to 61%), respectively, if such an endgame strategy had been proven to be successful elsewhere (in a place like Iceland) after one year of implementation.

“When exclusively looking at the responses of participating pharmacists who were part-owner or owner (n=15), 60% (95%CI: 35% to 82%) thought it was somewhat to extremely likely their pharmacy would opt in to selling tobacco. This increased to 80% (95%CI: 55% to 95%) if such an endgame strategy proved effective after one year of implementation in a place like Iceland.”

The pharmacists were also asked whether they saw any potential advantages or disadvantages of such a scheme.

The most commonly suggested advantages were reduced access to tobacco for the public; pharmacists’ existing professional training in smoking cessation; and that selling tobacco was a “financially attractive option,” the authors write.

Disadvantages suggested included concerns about increased robbery, crime and abuse of staff; increased foot traffic and workload; and potential damage to the image of pharmacists as health professionals.

“These modest levels of support among pharmacists at least suggest it could be worthwhile to perform further research, and to possibly have an open discussion with pharmacists along with their professional organisations to explore the wider acceptability and feasibility of this idea,” the authors write.

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