AMA pushes for ban on tobacco items from stores with clinics

7/21/2008

CHICAGO —The American Medical Association is at it again.

Just days removed from public comments filed by the Federal Trade Commission decrying the rationale of such a move, physicians who gathered here last month for the AMA’s annual meeting, muddied the waters, backing a new public health policy that calls for a ban on the sale of tobacco products in retail outlets housing store-based health clinics.

AMA members voted to adopt the policy June 17. “It’s ridiculous for stores that house health clinics to sell tobacco products,” said AMA board member Dr. William Dolan.

The move may fan the flames in several states, such as Illinois, where some law-makers seek to impose restrictions on the operation of retail-based clinics.

One year ago, a handful of smaller physicians’ organizations pushed a similarly unfriendly, anti-clinic agenda at the AMA’s 2007 annual meeting, pushing for a government investigation of retail clinics.

The news of the AMA’s new policy position sent waves throughout the convenient care industry.

“We do not understand how forcing retailers to choose between having an in-store clinic and selling tobacco products serves the broader goal of providing consumers with easier access to high-quality, affordable health care. The FTC was clear in its recent opinion…about the importance of creating an open and competitive healthcare marketplace. Their opinion further reinforced anticompetitive regulations—like those that the AMA is suggesting—that would not, in fact, be in the public interest,” said Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the Convenient Care Association. Hansen-Turton told Drug Store News the CCA remains committed to working with the AMA and other groups to educate the medical community and law-makers on the important role retail clinics play in creating access to health care.

Responding to the AMA’s new health policy, Walgreens, which owns Take Care Health Systems, noted in a statement, “Access to health care is limited when regulations focus on products sold by the retailer. Take Care Health Providers can be an effective resource for those trying to quit smoking by offering information on smoking-cessation programs and healthy lifestyles, and referring them to products available at the store.”

As previously reported by Drug Store News, the FTC approved in early June staff comments regarding proposed regulation of retail healthcare facilities in Illinois. Among the concerns is the bill’s (HB 5372) prohibition on the location of a clinic “in any store or place that provides alcohol or tobacco products for sale to the public.”

FTC staff argued the rationale for not allowing a clinic in a retail store that also sells tobacco or alcohol is unclear. Such a restriction could limit the supply of retail clinics and the basic medical services they would provide.

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