ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- Rockland County has made a radical move in the fight against smoking.
The Legislature voted unanimously this week to approve a local law that would ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in pharmacies and retail establishments that contain pharmacies.
According to County Executive Ed Day’s office, supporters feel that it is counterproductive for pharmacies to sell medicine and other things that promote good health and well-being while also offering tobacco products “proven to cause cancer and other potentially fatal diseases.”
The ban is also intended to help people from picking up the habit.
“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,” said Legislature Vice Chairwoman Nancy Low-Hogan, D-South Nyack, who introduced the measure.
“It sends a confusing message to people, and especially to children and teens, about the real threats posed to their health by tobacco products,” she added.
Day said he wanted to study the potential financial effects of the ban on local businesses before he signs off on it.
If it gets the final thumbs-up, the ban would be the first such one in New York state, Day’s office said.
Violators could face a civil penalty of up to $2,000.
The county health commissioner will have sole jurisdiction over the law’s enforcement.
Nationwide, more than 150 municipalities in Massachusetts, California and Minnesota have tobacco-free pharmacy laws in place.
The nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain, CVS Health, removed tobacco products from its shelves in 2014, according to published reports.
Denise Hogan, project coordinator for the POW’R Against Tobacco program of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said research has shown that enacting such laws can reduce both smoking rates and the number of youths who take up smoking.
Hogan advocated for the law and was among those who addressed legislators during a public hearing Tuesday.
“Removing tobacco from pharmacies is a win-win for our community and for our pharmacies,” she 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.
The documented impact of tobacco products on health is "staggering," Day’s office said.
More than 13,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with lung cancer and about 9,000 die of the disease each year, according to the state Health Department.
Tobacco-related health care costs New Yorkers $10.4 billion annually, of which Medicaid covers $3.3 billion, state health officials said.
On the positive front, Day’s office said, Rockland has the lowest numbers of adult smokers in the state. Still, about 1-in-10 adults in Rockland do smoke, according to 2016 statistics from the state Bureau of Tobacco Control.
Tobacco products are sold at about 215 retailers in Rockland, 18 of which 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.
Hogan said 196 non-pharmacy retailers sell tobacco products.
The new law, if signed by Day, would not affect those retailers; smokers will still be able to purchase tobacco products from them.
Legislators Jay Hood, D-Haverstraw, and Aney Paul D-Nanuet, were absent when the vote was taken.