Legislator Savage to sponsor resolution; county executive joined by Health Commissioner Burstein, public health advocates to announce proposal
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Friday by Erie County Legislator Peter Savage (3rd District), Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, Executive Director of Pharmacy Services at Roswell Park Cancer Institute Dr. Anthony Fernando, Director of Tobacco Free WNY Anthony Billoni and pharmacist Stephen Giroux to announce a local law regarding the prohibition of the sale of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in pharmacies and licensed health care institutions in Erie County. Both the American Pharmacists Association and the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York support the new local law, which would also apply to retail establishments containing pharmacies.
"With this law, we are acting at the local level to protect the health of our residents and remove unhealthy products from pharmacies and retail establishments with pharmacies in Erie County," Poloncarz said. "Each year, thousands of men and women in New York die from smoking-related causes while residents remain accustomed to seeing cancer-causing products sold alongside health products in pharmacies and stores. This undermines educational efforts on the dangers of these addictive products and makes these cancer-causing products more accessible to young people.
"When we see a threat to public health we must act promptly to address it, and we are doing that today. I thank Legislator Savage for sponsoring this law and urge the legislature to adopt it to better protect public health here in Erie County."
"The sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and licensed health care facilities is completely contrary to these institutions' core mission of promoting public health, providing treatment and preventing illness, and should be prohibited," said Savage, the law's sponsor.
The state Department of Health reports approximately 2.1 million New Yorkers smoke and that, despite youth smoking rates reaching their lowest recorded levels, approximately 10,600 youth under 18 become new daily smokers each year. 73,700 New York high school students currently smoke, while more than a million children in the state are exposed to secondhand smoke in their own homes each year.
Burstein added, "The harmful effects of smoking are well-documented and, while we are making progress in decreasing smoking rates, there is more work to be done. Selling tobacco products in retail outlets that also sell products to promote and increase health is incompatible with these stores' mission and is detrimental to public health, giving children the impression that these health-harming products are more benign than they actually are and potentially ensnaring new generations of children into an addiction.
"This law is a big step forward in protecting public health."
The Erie County health commissioner will have sole jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the new law, which defines "tobacco products" as "any product made or derived from tobacco or which contains synthetic nicotine marketed or sold for human consumption, whether consumption occurs through inhalation, or oral or dermal absorption."
The law also affects e-cigarettes and vaping products.
Under the law's provisions, the commissioner may impose civil penalties for violations of up to $1,000 for a first violation and up to $2,000 for each subsequent violation.
"Pharmacies are integral members of the health care community," RPCI's Fernando said. "As a valuable community resource, pharmacies should promote healthy living and discourage the use of products that can negatively impact health. The proposed legislation, which would prohibit the sale of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes in pharmacies in Erie County, is a sound approach to a comprehensive public health effort that can promote a healthier population."
Poloncarz added, "Some grocery stores and pharmacies in Erie County, such as Transit Hill Pharmacy, were proactive in protecting their customers' health and already made the switch to a tobacco-free inventory in recent years. Their business remains good and their commitment to promoting public health provides a model for us to build a cleaner, healthier Erie County."
"Most locally owned, independent pharmacies stopped selling cigarettes and tobacco products 20 or more years ago, when the role of the pharmacist began changing from 'dispenser' to health care professional," said Giroux, pharmacist and owner of Transit Hill Pharmacy. "Most of us recognized that, as health care professionals working all day to improve the health and health care outcomes of our patients, that it was simply inconsistent with that role to also sell a product that is overwhelmingly detrimental to our health.
"We welcome the effort to get our 'big-box' competitors to join us in promoting wellness to our patients: the residents of Erie County, for whom we have cared for many years - grandparents, parents, children - in encouraging smoking cessation or never starting."
Billoni said, "Tobacco-Free WNY is at the front line of the NYS DOH effort to end tobacco use - a deadly habit that costs NYS families nearly $1,000 each year. A main focus of our work is to reduce the presence and promotion of tobacco at the store counter - which studies have shown unduly influences our kids to consider smoking and now e-cigarettes.
"Any effort that provides less access and visibility of tobacco and related products is consistent with our goal of ending tobacco use in NYS. Ending the sale of tobacco in pharmacies and stores that have pharmacies would reduce availability of tobacco and related products by almost 15 percent. We will support our county leaders with community education and advocacy."
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