Island Voices: Cigarette sales in pharmacies are a disgrace

In the past month, I have counted no fewer than 10 new initiatives that have been announced by our B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix. I would be happy to commend him for all of these if there were not a very large elephant in the room.

You see, despite all of these wonderful things he can take credit for, it should be noted that Adrian Dix is the only health minister remaining in all of Canada’s provinces and territories who continues to allow pharmacies to sell cigarettes. (The Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada makes it clear on their website that B.C. is the only remaining province that still allows pharmacies to sell cigarettes.)

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But there’s more, and B.C. taxpayers should be furious.

B.C. has an excellent taxpayer-funded program called the Smoking Cessation program that gives money to pharmacies to distribute the nicotine therapy patch or gum for free for smokers wanting to kick their addiction to nicotine.

So on top of a health minister not being able to find the you-know-whats to introduce legislation to fix the smokes-in-drugstores issue, he can also take the blame for letting companies such as London Drugs continue to give out the nicotine replacement therapy patch and gum for free.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the hypocrisy of this. London Drugs wants to continue enabling nicotine addicts for a profit, while offering them a way to quit at taxpayers’ expense. It’s really not the type of scenario that screams “We care about our customers’ health,” is it? Sorry, but you don’t get to play for both teams.

When I emailed Dix’s office about the issue, their response was very bland: “British Columbia’s approach is to allow pharmacies to choose to end the sale of tobacco products rather than banning the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies and stores containing dispensary items.”

I just wonder in what universe he would expect that a profitable company with morals selling a profitable product would voluntarily cease selling that product.

Magically, most of the other drugstores in B.C. have demonstrated commendable morals, and voluntarily ceased selling the smokes, without closing down as a result of it.

If Dix were to introduce legislation banning smokes to be sold in pharmacies, does anyone think there would be a soul on the floor of the legislature opposing that ban? This should be a slam-dunk, and I doubt that any morally guided MLA would vote against it. If that ban can work in all other provinces and territories, I’m pretty sure it would work in my beautiful British Columbia.

Furthermore, if the logic of this argument proves to be too difficult for our health minister, I would suggest, at very least, he should stop sending our taxpayer money to London Drugs COO Clint Mahlman for the Smoking Cessation program, and remove them from the program until Mahlman discovers the proper direction of his moral compass.

If Adrian Dix could find so many ways to introduce new health initiatives, yet can’t see the logic of why this issue can’t be resolved, then something smells as bad as a two-pack-a-day smoker’s woollen sweater.

Leo Levasseur is a fervent anti-smoking crusader who believes B.C.’s morals and smoking laws should be brought up to the level of the rest of Canada.

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