Barnstable's cigarette ban is a restriction of trade

It also could hurt tourism
And it's a restraint of trade

Yesterday the Barnstable Board of Health banned the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies and health care facilities. While I don’t believe in promoting tobacco use, I find Barnstable’s decision misguided.

Beyond a small business owner’s concern about any restriction of trade, Barnstable over-reached on this issue. Visit any Rite Aid or CVS and look at the other “unhealthy choices” a shopper can make.

From the candy aisle to the ice cream freezer, there are plenty of ways one can pollute one’s body in a modern pharmacy. What about pharmacy counters in grocery stores?

Will Barnstable’s next move be to ban sales of salty snacks in stores that dispense prescriptions? I submit that it is wrong for Barnstable to restrict the trade of any product that is legal to sell in Massachusetts. It’s a slippery slope from there, dear readers.

Compliance

A pharmacy is, by its very nature more conditioned towards fastidious regulatory compliance than (for example) a convenience store or gas station. I would honestly trust the staff at CVS to verify ID on cigarette sales more than I’d trust the staff at my local convenience store.

I’d like to see the Barnstable police run a tobacco sting operation – today – to see whether pharmacies  or convenience stores do a better job controlling cigarette sales to minors. If the results are what I think they’d be, perhaps the Board of Health will descend their ivory tower and re-visit this issue.

Higher Prices and Longer Lines

Pharmacies are businesses like any other. If you take away a source of their revenue, they will make it up somewhere else. The smoker who used to buy her tobacco at Rite Aid may have bought other items at the same time. Chances are that those incidental sales will move to whatever alternative store she now must patronize.

When non-smoking Barnstable residents start paying higher prices for health and beauty products sold at pharmacies, they can thank the Board of Health for that extra ding in their wallets. In a twisted way, perhaps higher pharmacy prices would mean the public is somehow subsidizing smokers….

Short of someone opening tobacco-only stores in Barnstable (right next to the marijuana dispensary?) the new regulation will force smokers into convenience stores, gas stations and other establishments that sell tobacco but not prescription drugs. This means longer lines at your favorite convenience store, again making the non-smoker “pay” for the town’s restriction of tobacco sales. Now if we non-smokers were smart, we’d buy our convenience store items at Rite Aid and CVS, denying the revenue to the convenience store that will now have smokers lined up out the door.

Impact on Tourism, a Bad Reputation

While restricting trade of tobacco in Barnstable certainly won’t “kill tourism” on the Cape, it creates an inconvenience for our visitors that makes the Cape feel a bit less hospitable. It’s one of those annoyances that a tourist doesn’t like to deal with – park the car, walk into the drugstore and then find out they can’t buy cigarettes at the same chain where they usually shop at home.

A Misguided Policy

It’s unlikely that Barnstable’s restriction of the tobacco trade will motivate smokers to quit. It hurts pharmacies, inconveniences tourists and raises serious concerns about compliance.

If you’re a Barnstable resident and you are unhappy with this Board of Health decision we recommend you contact your town council representative and let them know you’re “mad as hell”. Vote in our poll.


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