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Some pharmacies stick to tobacco sale despite public criticism
  • By Constance Williams
  • Published 2017.04.18 16:54
  • Updated 2017.04.20 15:02
  • comments 0

“Give the disease and offer the remedy,” an old Korean saying goes, which is somewhat similar to “carrying fire in one hand and water in the other.” However, some pharmacies in this country still give the ailment and drug at the same time – literally.

According to the estimation by Korean Pharmacists' Association (KPA), some 100 pharmacies or so might still be selling cigarettes, displaying tobacco products not far from smoke-cessation drugs in some cases.

About 100 pharmacies in Korea still sell cigarettes, resulting in public jeers that they give both diseases and drugs at the same time

The government prohibited drugstores from selling cigarettes by revising relevant laws in 2004 and has since disallowed any new entries. The problems were the 239 pharmacies that had won the right to sell tobacco before then. The KPA has also advised its members to stop selling tobacco products, reducing the number to around 100 last year.

"We have not recently surveyed the number of pharmacies that sell cigarettes but estimate it to be between 80 and 100 drugstores,” said Choi Heon-soo, head of marketing division at KPA.

Only a tiny portion of pharmacies are selling tobacco products, but they are tainting the image of drugstores as the guardians or consultants of public health, industry watchers said. What makes these stores stick to tobacco sales are high-profit margins, they noted.

An industry insider said many cigarette retailers make between $300 and $600 a month for selling tobacco products in their stores, and those in some areas reported that they garner more than 100 million won ($87,560) from tobacco sales a year.

That is a far cry from the situation in the United States. According to the TIME magazine, CVS Pharmacy, a subsidiary of the American retail and health care company CVS Health, stopped selling tobacco at its stores in 2014, and the company said the move has resulted in a decline in cigarette purchases.

During the eight months following the tobacco sales ban, the CVS Research Institute found a 1-percent drop in cigarette sales in the 13 states where CVS pharmacy market had a market share of 15 percent or more.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare and KPA are going all out to persuade the 100-odd pharmacies to discontinue tobacco sales but to little avail so far.

“Money may be important, but no one can justify tobacco sales by pharmacies,” said a regional chapter head of KPA.

Some consumers were more direct in their criticism. “How long should we wait before getting rid of this contradiction?” an Internet warrior said in his SNS website.


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