October 16th, 2014

Response to Vancouver Sun October 15th story

We would like to take this opportunity to provide a response to the Vancouver Sun October 15th story regarding the potential of the College of Pharmacists of B.C. unilaterally deciding to expand their jurisdiction to dictate what the buying public can purchase in retail outlets with pharmacies.

Retailers including London Drugs have communicated their concerns to the College of Pharmacists of B.C. as it is the retail companies’ collective view that only publicly elected bodies such as the provincial government has the jurisdiction over what customers can and can’t purchase in a retail environment. A current example is the government public consultation process and pending start of the sale of liquor in grocery stores in B.C. We believe that our customers purchase options should not be made by a self-styled regulator. This is the responsibility of government and not an unelected by the public board.

We need to be clear that although the College of Pharmacists of B.C. has chosen tobacco as an example of a product they would like to have jurisdiction over how and where it is sold knowing fully what a contentious issue tobacco is, however this potential bylaw could extend to a wide range of products. This was most recently evidenced by their attempt to restrict retailers for rewarding customers with loyalty points which was challenged in court and their ability to restrict a benefit to customers was not allowed to proceed by the courts.

If the College of Pharmacists of B.C. really wants to help people to stop smoking they should work together with retailers on methods and access to help people to quit.

The notion of restricting the regulated sale of tobacco at retail where there is also a pharmacy does not address the real issue.  The focus should be on how we can help people to stop smoking. It is a widely accepted belief that targeting tobacco users with cessation tools at the point of purchase is critical to effect change and help people quit smoking.

Governments around the world clearly agree that targeting smokers with anti-smoking messaging at the point of purchase is a productive strategy. This is why governments legislate whether tobacco products are visible, and prescribe specific graphic messages and pictures on packaging – they know that targeted messaging at point-of-purchase works.

Tobacco is a legal product in British Columbia and the public has a variety of choices on where they can purchase tobacco products. This includes pharmacies, grocery stores, corner convenience stores and gas stations. And the fact is, responsible retailers like London Drugs have a critical role in helping people to stop smoking where other forms of retail cannot or they choose not to. In addition to the crucial compliant ‘ask for identification’ factor, when smokers come to purchase tobacco at London Drugs, they receive a brochure offering counselling and tips on how to quit. The counselling and anti-smoking aids are there being offered immediately and in full view at the tobacco point of purchase. These deterrents and education are not happening outside a drug store environment.

London Drugs is proud of the fact we have been an industry leader in working hard over the past decade to establish a robust smoking cessation program for our customers. This includes pharmacists providing one-on-one support for people who want to quit smoking through consultation and coaching and follow up assistance at no cost to the customer. As further commitment to smoking cessation, over the last number of months we have been in discussion with fellow retailers to establish an industry-wide smoking cessation program for the betterment of all British Columbians. An industry led smoking cessation provincial program will take the funding burden off taxpayers. We believe this is a better strategy than taking tobacco out of retail all together and moving it to places that are unregulated, often unlawful and without targeted smoking cessation tools and methods.  If people wish to purchase tobacco products they will so isn’t it better to have them dealing with responsible retailers who also make both education and cessation opportunities available to them?

It is our hope the College will work with us to look at the critical needs and address smoking cessation in British Columbia rather than attempting to dictate to consumers what they can and can’t buy in retail stores.

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