Pharmacies should get out of tobacco-selling, into smoking-cessation game

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT The news that San Francisco's board of supervisors gave preliminary approval to ban tobacco sales at all retailers that operate pharmacies, including mass merchants and grocers, is a step in the right direction, because if drug stores are going to be banned from selling them, then all retail pharmacy outlets should be banned. However, there's an even bigger picture to consider.

(THE NEWS: Report: San Francisco supervisors OK tobacco sales ban at pharmacies. For the full story, click here)

As many dollars as pharmacy retailers made selling cigarettes, there is much more to be gained in medication therapy management, and there is a significant opportunity for retail pharmacy to have a greater stake in the future of health care.

Cigarette smoking has been identified as the most important source of preventable disease, illness and death worldwide, according to the American Lung Association. Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 443,000 American lives each year, including those affected indirectly by "secondhand" smoke.

Furthermore, smoking-related healthcare expenditures are a major drain on the U.S. healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking cost the United States more than $193 billion in 2004, including $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in direct healthcare expenditures, or an average of $4,260 per adult smoker.

Clearly, there's a positive role that pharmacists can play in smoking cessation. To further support this, a recently published study on the "effect of a pharmacist-managed smoking-cessation clinic on quit rates" found that pharmacists can play a vital role in smoking cessation, especially in a group setting, as they can reach more people within the same time frame.

The study found that at three months and six months, 47.6% and 52.4% of patients reported being smoke-free, respectively. The study was conducted on patients that had participated in the pharmacist-managed Smoking Cessation Group Clinic at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Participants received structured group counseling on various topics associated with cessation.

It also should be noted that in August, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that Medicare coverage for seniors trying to quit smoking was expanded to include everyone on Medicare.