Originally published in Bee Newspapers in March 2016

County leads in proposal to ban tobacco in pharmacies
By Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive
March 9, 2016

This month I will be delivering my 2016 State of the County address, and I look forward to not only talking about the many ways that Erie County has advanced during the first four years of my administration, but also exploring areas for further progress. While many positive changes have occurred in our county, there is also much more to be done as we work together to create an Erie County that is healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous for all. It will be a vigorous and wide-ranging address that touches on many areas our community can work on.

For example, last week I unveiled a major initiative: a new local law to prohibit the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarettes in pharmacies and licensed health care institutions in Erie County. The law, which would only apply to any retail establishment containing a pharmacy, will be sponsored by Legislator Peter Savage in the Erie County Legislature and is similar to legislation already enacted in communities in California, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. In addition to Legislator Savage, I was honored to be joined at the announcement by Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, along with representatives from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Tobacco Free WNY.

When we see a threat to public health we must act promptly to address it, and this law does that. The state Department of Health reports that 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. A reported 73,700 NYS high school students smoke, while over a million children in NYS are exposed to secondhand smoke in their own homes each year. Cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes are incompatible with pharmacies’ primary mission of protecting public health, yet 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. Ours would be the first local law in New York State to remove cancer-causing tobacco and vaping products from pharmacies, and I urge the Legislature to act swiftly in passing this legislation. Larger retailers, such as Wegmans, Target and CVS put public health over corporate profits when they removed tobacco products from their shelves in recent years. Many independent and smaller pharmacies took the lead on this issue long ago by banning tobacco from their establishments after realizing the inconsistency of offering cancer-causing products along with products to improve health and health care outcomes. Tobacco products will still be available at other non-pharmacy outlets, but now is the time to pass this common sense law to remove them from pharmacies, which are our community health resources.