By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Rather than “dropping a hammer,” the Board of Health is trying a collaborative approach to discourage tobacco sales, especially to young people.
Board of Health Chairman Dr. Thomas Trowbridge announced last night that Rite Aid, of 525 Turnpike St., has installed opaque doors that obscure its display of cigarettes. The company took this measure in response to a letter the board sent to all local pharmacies asking them to consider discontinuing the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Last year, the board debated whether to order a ban against tobacco sales at pharmacies. Dr. Frank MacMillan, a Board of Health member, pointed out at that time that a drugstore is considered a health care facility because pharmacists advise customers on how they should take their prescribed medicines.
MacMillan, a physician, noted the irony of a health care facility selling products that are known to cause cancer, emphysema and heart disease.
Many people spoke out against the proposed ban and the Board of Health put the matter on hold. Another board member, Joseph McCarthy, said he wasn’t convinced the prohibition would discourage people from smoking.
Eventually, Trowbridge suggested that the board try persuading the pharmacies to voluntarily stop selling tobacco products rather than forcing them to end the practice. The board then authorized him to send a letter with this request to all local pharmacies.
North Andover has five pharmacies, all owned by chains: two CVSes, a Walgreens, a Rite Aid and a Stop & Shop.
Trowbridge said last night two of them responded to the letter. One thanked the board for its concern about the dangers of smoking, but said it would continue to sell tobacco products.
Rite Aid, however, said it would install the opaque doors to make the cigarettes almost invisible. People over 18 can still buy cigarettes at Rite Aid, but they are not in plain view.
Trowbridge called Rite Aid’s response “a very reasonable compromise” and said he would like the board to consider sending a letter to the company thanking it for making an effort to discourage people from buying tobacco products.
“We hope that it is a good step forward,” he said. He also said he prefers a “partnering” approach “rather than dropping a hammer.”
“I think Rite Aid should be commended,” McCarthy said.
Trowbridge said he particularly worries about young people getting addicted to smoking.
Now that warmer weather has arrived, residents are bracing for the usual onslaught of mosquitoes. Susan Sawyer, director of the Health Department, said Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control has already installed traps at various locations in the town to catch the dreaded insects.
The agency will test the samples and if large numbers of virus-carrying mosquitoes are found, it will spray where appropriate, Sawyer said. The mosquito control agency is also dropping larvicide in very catch basin in the town, she said.
“It’s better to keep them from being born,” she said. Residents who think mosquitoes are a serious problem in their neighborhoods and desire a visit from the sprayers can call the Health Department at 978-688-9540 to express their concerns.
The Health Department will then discuss the situation with Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control, Sawyer said.
Board of Health meetings typically conclude with one of the members making a short presentation about a public health topic. Trowbridge, an oral surgeon, noted that April was Oral Cancer Awareness Month.
Trowbridge said 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer each year. The disease has a 50 percent survival rate, he said – because many people don’t make regular visits to a dentist.
Like many cancers, if this disease is discovered near its beginning, the chances of successful treatment are great, Trowbridge said. Most if not all dentists screen their patients for signs of oral cancer, he noted.
Besides being the principal culprit for lung cancer, smoking is also the leading cause of oral cancer, according to Trowbridge. If one drinks alcohol in addition to smoking, the chances of being afflicted with oral cancer are even greater, he said.