ROCKLAND COUNTY N.Y. – Rockland students got a real lesson in people power when they witnessed the signing of a bill making it illegal to sell tobacco products in pharmacies.
With one stroke of the pen Friday, County Executive Ed Day, an admitted former smoker, made Rockland the first county in the state to do so.
He made the historic move at Tappan Zee High School in Orangeburg, where students first started lobbying county legislators for the ban several years ago.
Day told students that they now have tangible proof of what happens when citizens exercise their rights in a democracy.
The ban, he told them, “will leave a lasting mark on Rockland and the rest of the state,” adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if other municipalities followed suit.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
State health statistics show that while the adult smoking rate is at a record low, nearly 30,000 adults die from tobacco-related illnesses in New York every year.
Denise Hogan, of POW’R Against Tobacco program of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said research has shown that such bans can reduce both smoking rates and the number of youths who take up habit.
“Removing tobacco from pharmacies is a win-win for our community and for our pharmacies,” Hogan said. “It can increase profit margins for the pharmacy, help improve public health by reducing the convenient access to cigarettes, and it changes the social norms regarding tobacco use.”
More than 13,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with lung cancer and 9,000 die of the disease, according to the state Health Department.
Tobacco-related health care costs New Yorkers $10.4 billion every year, of which Medicaid covers $3.3 billion.
Rockland has the lowest adult smoking rate in New York, but, still, about one in 10 adults in Rockland smokes, according to the state Bureau of Tobacco Control.
Rockland has 215 tobacco retailers, of which 18 are pharmacies or contain a pharmacy; one is a privately-owned pharmacy and nine are part of a pharmacy chain (Walgreen’s, Rite Aid and Drug Mart).
Eight supermarkets have pharmacies and sell tobacco products. Of the 20 privately-owned pharmacies in Rockland, just one sells tobacco. Close to 200 non-pharmacy retailers sell tobacco products. Those retailers would not be affected by the ban.
The nation’s second -largest pharmacy chain, CVS, stopped selling tobacco three years ago.
More than 150 municipalities in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California ban tobacco sales in pharmacies.
The county health commissioner will be responsible for enforcing the ban, which carries a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per violation.
Legislators approved the ban in January with a bipartisan vote of 15-0.
It was sponsored by Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan, D-South Nyack, whose district includes the South Orangetown school district. She took part in the ceremony Friday, along with Legislators Harriet Cornell, Toney Earl and Aney Paul.
Low-Hogan said removing tobacco from pharmacies is a "win" for the community.
“It doesn’t make sense that a place we go to pick up a prescription or other item intended to boost our health would also be a place that sells a product that can damage our health,” she said.
“It sends a confusing message to people, and especially to children and teens, about the real threats posed to their health by tobacco products,” Low-Hogan said.
Day, a former smoker, warned students that tobacco is “very addictive.”
“It’s not easy to quit. That’s why the best strategy is not to start in the first place,” he said.
“You have learned your lessons about government and the ability of one person or one group to make a difference,” Day told students.