You can't buy cigarettes from your doctor, so why can you purchase tobacco products at some pharmacies?

People do not expect to be able to purchase cigarettes or other tobacco products when they visit their doctors' or dentists' offices.

People can buy tobacco products at some pharmacies, however, and it's a business decision that has garnered the attention of a faculty member and students in the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy.

"As consumers know, most community pharmacies carry a wide range of products - from bubblegum to motor oil - in addition to prescription medications and health products," said Karen Farris, Ph.D., UI associate professor of clinical and administrative pharmacy. "On principle, however, pharmacies should not be selling tobacco. The fact that some do got us thinking about this issue."

Farris, along with UI pharmacy students Lisa Hickey and Tatum Mead, surveyed community pharmacies in Cedar, Iowa, Johnson and Washington counties to determine whether they sold tobacco and how often they provided information on nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other products to help patients stop smoking.

Of the 33 pharmacies in the area (independent pharmacies as well as chain-store pharmacies and those in food stores and mass merchandise stores), 18 did not sell tobacco. Of the 18 that did not carry tobacco, the majority were smaller, independent operations. This is not surprising, Farris noted, since the decision whether or not to carry tobacco products typically rests with the pharmacist.

"It seems that the bigger stores may be looking at the bottom line or customer convenience with regard to selling or not selling tobacco products," Farris said. "Pharmacists at these stores probably have little or no control over the matter, and we understand that this could put some pharmacists in a difficult situation with their employers."

Almost all of the pharmacies surveyed carried NRTs and other nonprescription products to help people stop using tobacco. More than half of the pharmacists said they counsel patients about NRTs when they are purchased. Some of the pharmacies even limited access to NRTs in order to foster more interaction with patients interested in these products.

Some pharmacists have always assisted their patients' attempts to stop smoking, and all pharmacists can refer patients to the Quitline Iowa toll free number, 866-U-CAN-TRY (866-822-6879), Farris noted. She encouraged patients who go to tobacco-free pharmacies to tell their pharmacist they are happy with the decision, as well.

"With the help of interested consumers and a focus on keeping patients healthy, all pharmacies can become tobacco free," Farris said.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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