More than a decade ago, Salem was the first on the North Shore to ban smoking in restaurants. That decision sparked protests by restaurant owners and a court fight.
Salem led the way again last night when the Board of Health voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in pharmacies, becoming the first North Shore city to take that step.
This time, however, there were no howls of protest. In fact, the meeting took only a few minutes and drew only a handful of people.
Health Agent Larry Ramdin said a few pharmacies called over the past several days to inquire about a possible ban, but not so much to protest as to find out when it would go into effect.
It begins Sept. 1.
Dr. Barbara Poremba, chairwoman of the health board, said she didn’t think the vote was a “big deal.” While an important step, she said nearly 40 cities and town across the state already forbid the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies or are in the process of imposing bans. Many other communities, she said, are expected to follow suit.
It’s also a move, she and other members said, that makes sense at a time when pharmacies are positioning themselves as key parts of the health care delivery system, offering flu clinics, vaccinations and other medical services.
“We weren’t looking at it to be punitive,” she said. “If pharmacies are to be engaging in health care delivery, it changes the game.”
Dr. Larissa Lucas, a board member and internist, said she supported the move, in part, to remove an unnecessary temptation from those trying to quit smoking.
“The last thing they need is to be waiting in line to pay for their prescriptions and to be looking up at tobacco ads,” she said.
The ban will affect seven pharmacies in Salem, most of them major chains like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart. There also is a pharmacy at the Stop & Shop on the Peabody line.
Five of the largest cities in the state already prohibit pharmacies from selling cigarettes, including Boston, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
“Around the world, most pharmacies can’t sell tobacco,” said D.J. Wilson of the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s tobacco control division. “It’s just a phenomenon here.”
The eight-page regulations adopted last night include several measures aimed at blocking the sale of single cigarettes, cheap cigars in bright-colored wrappers, electronic nicotine delivery products and other items targeted at juveniles.
The board also set a limit of 60 tobacco sales permits in the city. Including the pharmacies, there are currently 55 stores and others venues in Salem that sell cigarettes and tobacco products.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.