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    Why do drugstores sell products that kill?

    Student Corner

    While serving my public health rotation as a third-year pharmacy student, I researched the way the tobacco industry targets today’s youth with strategies designed to entice a new generation of smokers — strategies that threaten even the least vulnerable and most advantaged teen population.

    According to the 2012 “U.S. Surgeon General's Report,” approximately 80% of those who start smoking as teenagers will continue to smoke into adulthood. Each day in America, almost 4,000 youths between 12 and 17 years of age start smoking, and of these about 1,000 become daily smokers, according to the 2008 “National Survey on Drug Use.”

    Target the young

    New marketing campaigns and packaging strategies have been developed to appeal to younger consumers.

    Many of these new products have candy flavors. Their brightly colored packages are featured at attractive point-of-sale displays meant to appeal to younger consumers. Fashion magazines present integrated marketing campaigns that contain color-coordinated dresses, shoes, and accessories — including the properly color-coordinated cigarette appropriate to an exciting night on the town.

    An entire new line of products has emerged to tempt young consumers or ease their transition into chronic use of tobacco. Some of these new products include snus, orbs, energy dips, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

    Snus is a spit-free and smoke-free tobacco product that comes in a small pouch and is placed under the upper lip.

    Orbs are dissolvable flavored pellets similar to Tic Tacs and made from finely ground tobacco meant to dissolve within 15 minutes.

    Energy dip is a blend of chewing tobacco touted to provide an energized sensation without the crashes associated with many energy drinks.

    Like giving candy to a baby

    These products are meant to tempt teenagers as fun and innovative analogues to products with which they are already familiar.

    It is claimed that products such as the electronic cigarette and flavored cigars are less addictive and harmful. They are less expensive and easier to rationalize, which helps to keep current smokers addicted and to attract new and younger tobacco users.

    These products can often act as “gateway” products; they introduce teenagers to tobacco use, making it easier for them to experiment and move into use of a broader array of tobacco products, and encourage lifelong habits. Some of these products are even marketed as smoking cessation aids, when in reality they only strengthen the addiction.

    Pharmacists’ role

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. tobacco-related deaths outnumber all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol, motor vehicle injuries, suicides, and murders combined. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women.

    Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death.

    As pharmacists we must consider that we are giving mixed messages about tobacco products. On the one hand we sell these products; on the other, we sell products intended to help stop tobacco use or treat the illnesses brought on by tobacco products.

    The sale of cigarettes in pharmacies may breed mistrust for pharmacists, who are still regarded as among the most trusted and accessible healthcare professionals.

    They did it in S.F.

    Activists in San Francisco lobbied the city council and achieved passage of an ordinance prohibiting cigarette sales in pharmacies.

    It is the responsibility of pharmacists to inform all members of the public, regardless of their age, of the dangers of tobacco products, as well as to dispel any glamorous myths the tobacco industry may have created. And it is the pharmacists’ responsibility to stop selling these products in their pharmacies.

    San Francisco did it. All pharmacists should consider following suit.

    Jim Ober is a 2014 PharmD candidate at Touro University
College of Pharmacy. Contact him at [email protected].