Controversial ban of tobacco products at CVS discussed by Town Council

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Sep. 19, 2012
Town Councilor Dr. Saud Anwar's proposal would ban the sale of tobacco products at CVS. File photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
Town Councilor Dr. Saud Anwar's proposal would ban the sale of tobacco products at CVS. File photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

Does a pharmacy have the right to sell a product responsible for causing one in five deaths in America? On Monday, Sept. 17, this question was explored when Town Councilor Dr. Saud Anwar, a physician specializing in lung disease and critical care medicine, presented his controversial proposal to ban the sale of tobacco products from South Windsor's only pharmacy, CVS.

“I want to start off by talking about the impact of tobacco in the South Windsor community, but also in society in general, and explore the common arguments made against the ban,” said Anwar. He said that one in five Americans die from smoking-related diseases, that it is the leading cause of preventable death, and that it can lower life expectancy by 20 years. The cost to the economy is also significant: healthcare costs and the loss of productivity added up to $194 billion in 2004 and is rising, he said.

“According to Centers for Disease Control, 17.2 percent of high school students and 5.2 percent of middle school students identify themselves as smokers,” he said. He extrapolated those numbers and determined that 258 high school students and 52 middle school students in South Windsor identify themselves as smokers.

“These children will live 14 to 25 years less than their non-smoking friends,” Anwar said. “Each cigarette reduces the lifespan by 11 minutes.”

He said that more than 4,000 chemicals are found in cigarettes, including benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic and ammonia. “If someone was exposed to benzene in the workplace, they would be compensated for it,” said Anwar.

Anwar addressed the question of whether a ban was even legal. He said that it was possible under the equal protection claim, as a ban was deemed “legitimate and compelling” by a judge in the case of Safeway, Inc. v. the City and County of San Francisco. In respect to the First Amendment, the court found that “selling cigarettes is not a protected expressive activity.”

Anwar said that the ban would not lead to the ban of other dangerous things, such as alcohol, sports or sports cars, as “None of the other products place individuals at risk when used as directed.” There is a safe amount of alcohol you can consume, and a safe amount of candy you can eat, Anwar contends. “But is there a safe level for a cigarette? There is no such thing.”

Opponents to his proposal have asked him, why target a pharmacy alone, and not convenience stores? Anwar summed up his stance in one slogan: “A pharmacy is a place you should go to get better, not get cancer.” He quotes the American Pharmaceutical Association as saying, “Mass display of cigarettes in pharmacies is in direct contradiction to the role of pharmacies as a public health facility.”

Banning the sale of tobacco at CVS would not stop the largest sales source of tobacco in South Windsor, Anwar said, which is Stop & Shop. However, he said that in the future the advertisement of cigarettes in South Windsor will have to be addressed.

Anwar has also been told that such a ban is not the responsibility of the Town Council. He answered by saying that in the town charter, Chapter 3, Section 305, it is stated that the “Town Council has the power to make, alter or repeal ordinances or resolutions for the preservation of the good order, peace, health and safety of the town and its inhabitants.”

Councilors had a chance to respond to the presentation.

Deputy Mayor Bazzano, who had tried to pass an ordinance against smoking at athletic fields, said he was “totally against smoking,” however, he doubted that the ban would deter people from buying cigarettes. “I think the thing we need to look at is how to get people to stop smoking,” he said. “Banning cigarettes at CVS is not going to stop people from smoking.”

Keith Yagaloff was in support of the ban, saying that in the town of Wellesley, Mass., where there is a cigarette sales ban at CVS pharmacies, the people have responded positively. He noted that without government regulation, cigarettes would still be sold in vending machines or to children.

“We're not talking about selling to kids,” said Kevin McCann. “What we are talking about is the use of power by the Town Council. Do we want to say that we know what's best for everyone, so we're going to say what they can and can't do?” He said he hates smoking, but believes banning cigarettes is not a proper use of the Town Council's power.

Cary Prague was adamant in his opposition to the ban. “I don't understand your motivation for picking on CVS,” he said. “If you're going to target pharmacies, then target the parent companies. You might get farther that way.”

Prague told Anwar that had he moved to ban the sale of cigarettes town-wide, he still would not support it but would consider it more seriously than the ban at one specific location. “I applaud you doing this, but not in this way,” Prague said.

Jan Snyder also disagreed. “My concern is CVS is not doing anything illegal,” she said. “I just see the bigger picture, which is [we would be] starting to take away personal freedoms from people in this town, and that can morph into something much bigger.”

Cindy Beaulieu thanked Anwar for his presentation, saying it was a great argument for why people should not smoke. “But I don't think it was a great argument for why we should ban cigarettes at CVS,” she said. She believes that the charter compels the council to provide safe schools and roads, but banning legal substances is beyond the boundaries of the charter.

“I don't think a single person in this country doesn't realize that smoking is bad for you,” said Mayor Thomas Delnicki. “And I'm wondering what has happened to personal responsibility.”

Delnicki warned against government increasing its own power by increments. “New York City is a great example of incrementalism. One step lead to another and another, until all of a sudden – and it's not even funny to say this – you can't buy a soda over 16 ounces, if it's got sugar in it, in New York City.”

Edward Havens, who refrained from revealing his stance, noted that simply having this conversation might send a message to CVS and other corporations.

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