By Connor Beach
It will soon be a little harder to find a place to buy tobacco in Suffolk County.
The County Legislature voted this week to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. The legislation bans pharmacies from selling or offering everything from cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco to electronic cigarettes, vaping liquid and rolling papers. The law also applies to any retail establishment containing a pharmacy.
Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he decided to sponsor the legislation because the negative health effects of tobacco products are “inconsistent with the mission of pharmacies.”
“Selling tobacco products- although they are legal - doesn’t make sense for pharmacies,” Spencer said. “They’re the only products that if used as directed will actually kill people.”
Spencer said that, although some might see the new law as government interfering in business, the bill received “significant bipartisan support.” Legislator Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) was the bill’s primary co-sponsor.
Sixteen of the 18 county legislators voted in favor of the bill, while only Legislator Steven Flotteron (R-West Islip) opposed the restriction and Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Hauppauge) abstained from voting.
Suffolk joins Albany and Rockland counties and the five boroughs, which have adopted similar bans.
At a press conference following Tuesday’s vote, Suffolk County Board of Health member Pat Bishop-Kelly praised the effort to get tobacco out of pharmacies.
“Pharmacies are in the business of helping to make people healthier, not contribute to the causes of diseases that cost the lives of over 28,000 New Yorkers each year,” Bishop-Kelly said.
Spencer said large pharmacy chains like CVS and Wegmans already have a self-imposed ban on tobacco sales, and he didn’t think the tobacco restriction would have a substantial negative economic impact on smaller independent pharmacies.
“The numbers just don’t back that up,” Spencer said. “Most mom and pop pharmacies don’t sell cigarettes… there are very few in the county still selling tobacco.”
Pharmacies could have to clear tobacco products off the shelves as early as November, and would face a fine of up to $2,000 per violation if they don’t.
Pharmacies will be able to continue selling FDA approved nicotine products like skin patches, nicotine gum and lozenges that are designed to help people quit smoking.