South Windsor resident Kathy Daugherty remembers the exact day she quit her long-time smoking habit.
“Thirteen years, 3 months and 28 days ago, but who’s counting,” she remarked during the Town Council’s regular meeting on Monday.
Still, despite giving up her unhealthy habit in favor of walking and running, Daugherty vehemently opposed a possible ordinance that would ban South Windsor pharmacies - more specifically, just CVS and Target, because they are the only pharmacies in town, though only CVS was discussed - from selling tobacco products.
“If you as a Town Council target one business selling an item that causes harm because there is a MinuteClinic on the premises…why stop there?” asked Daugherty, noting that obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. “Why not remove chips or candy or sugary drinks from the store?”
Town Councilor Dr. Saud Anwar first brought up the item at a meeting in July, but Tuesday was the first time the council fully addressed it as a discussion item.
For Anwar, the issue was a matter of public health and corporate responsibility.
During a PowerPoint presentation, Anwar noted that 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. were attributable to tobacco use and that smoking was the leading cause of preventable death. He also offered eight counterarguments to claims like South Windsor should also ban Slurpees and Big Gulps, two popular sugary drink items offered by the chain 7-Eleven.
Anwar noted that there was no acceptable level of ingesting a cigarette, though there are acceptable levels of consuming candy bars, sodas and alcohol.
What’s more, pharmacies - particularly ones with clinics like CVS - are part of the health care industry, Anwar said, and, therefore, bears a responsibility to keep from selling inherently dangerous, harmful products.
“A pharmacy is a place you should go to get better, not get cancer,” Anwar said during his presentation. “It is physically wrong to sell cigarettes in the same place. … It is not me versus you or a political issue
But the Republican majority on the Town Council and members of the public who weighed in on the discussion said that the council either should not: 1. infringe on one’s personal responsibility from refraining from or choosing to use tobacco; 2. single out CVS from engaging in legally sanction commercial trade; or 3. overreach in its responsibilities as a local governing body.
Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano said that while he was against smoking, he would be more likely to support a measure that would ban all businesses - not just pharmacies - from selling tobacco products.
“If you just say to CVS, ‘You can’t sell cigarettes,’ I don’t think that solves the problem,” he said.
Councilor Kevin McCann said that the Town Council would overextend its authority by imposing such a ban.
“What we’re talking about is the use of power by the Town Council,” McCann said invoking the term “Big Brother.” “Do we say we know what is best for everyone and what they can and can’t do?"
“Democracy isn’t two wolves getting together with a sheep and deciding what to have for dinner. Having power doesn’t mean we have the right to do it,” he said.
Councilor Cindy Beaulieu agreed that she was uncomfortable with what the town charter allowed the council to do as well as whether there was a disconnect between Anwar’s presentation and CVS.
Mayor Tom Delnicki concluded by stating that he did not want to single out CVS - which he characterized as a convenience store that happened to have a pharmacy - and have it lead down a slippery slope of having to ban Halloween candy, chips and sugary drinks.
“I don’t want to put a target on [CVS’] back,” he said.
But Anwar responded that he was not singling out CVS; it just happens to be the only pharmacy in town.
“If we had 20 pharmacies in town, I would be proposing banning tobacco sales in 20 pharmacies,” he said.
Anwar also was not without his supporters.
Councilor Keith Yagaloff said that he knew of several communities in Massachusetts that banned the sales of tobacco products from pharmacies, including Boston and Wellesley.
Yagaloff said that the council had an obligation to promote the general health, welfare and safety of its residents, and that included banning tobacco products from pharmacies.
He noted that other methods of selling cigarettes, including vending machines, had been banned from places where children were, or were likely to be, present.
“We need to take incremental steps forward,” Yagaloff said.
The discussion sometimes turned tense, highlighted when Councilor Cary Prague stood up and left the podium and sat in the public seats when Yagaloff said that Prague admitted that he was being “partisan” by not backing Anwar’s proposal.
Still, at the end of the two-hour discussion, it was clear that Anwar’s proposal was not backed by a majority on the council.
Several councilors suggested that Anwar take up a boycott or write letters to CVS’ parent company about changing its policies. Daugherty said that she would work with Anwar to form educational policies to prevent children from taking up smoking to begin with.
"I'm here because I want you as a Town Council to do your job," Daugherty said. "Fix the leaking elementary school roofs...that's an issue of public health."
But Anwar remained undaunted, even if he was in the clear minority, stating that he "expected more" from CVS, the town, the community and the people.
"It's not a matter of personal responsibility," he said. "A child doesn't know any better. I recognize that I am in the minority, but I stand by what I believe in."
Correction: The article originally stated that CVS is the only business in South Windsor with a pharmacy. Target also has a pharmacy. South Windsor Patch regrets the error.