Leo Levasseur posed with one of his signs while demonstrating outside the London Drugs on Quadra Street on Monday. (Photo courtesy Leo Levasseur)

Vancouver Islander leads crusade against cigarettes in B.C. drugstores

Province allows drugstores to sell cigarettes and some feel policy should change, retailers disagree

A Saanich resident is leading the crusade against cigarettes being sold in drugstores in B.C.

Leo Levasseur was upset when he realized that B.C. is the only remaining province with no legislation against drugstores selling cigarettes. He feels it’s hypocritical for drugstores to sell addictive products while offering smoking cessation programs.

“I don’t want my tax dollars to go to a drugstore that’s playing for both teams,” he said.

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Levasseur, who runs four anti-smoking Facebook pages with a total of 10,000 followers, demonstrated outside the London Drugs on Quadra Street for three hours on Monday morning before being asked to move off the property. He said the manager was kind and understood that he wasn’t protesting against the store itself, but rather the policies put in place by those who run pharmacies.

Levasseur said he contacted Clint Mahlman, London Drugs president and chief operating officer, to discuss his concerns and Mahlman countered saying that the smoking cessation program is advertised to everyone who buys cigarettes.

“Counselling and anti-smoking aids are being offered immediately and in full view at the tobacco point of purchase at London Drugs,” wrote Mahlman in a letter to Levasseur on Aug. 16. He also pointed out that London Drugs has met with 127,000 folks about smoking cessation since 2011.

Levasseur said that offering counselling isn’t enough because the act of selling cigarettes “enables addicts.”

In an interview with Saanich News, Mahlman said he’d never been in contact with Levasseur, but that he was aware of his cause. Mahlman emphasized that London Drugs believes strongly in smoking cessation and seeks to discourage people from starting to smoke.

The company feels that the best method to help people quit smoking is to have strong anti-smoking messaging in the place where they buy cigarettes, he said.

Mahlman also worries that if B.C. were to prohibit drug stores from selling the regulated tobacco products, the only places offering them would be gas stations and convenience stores that don’t also offer cessation counselling.

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He also pointed out that London Drugs operates as far east as Manitoba and that the sales of smoking cessation products went down in the provinces that don’t allow cigarettes to be sold in drugstores.

In consultations between London Drugs and the B.C. Ministry of Health, Mahlman said officials saw the merit in offering cessation programs to customers buying tobacco while they’re near a pharmacy that can offer “professional and caring” counselling.

Levasseur has also been in contact with the B.C. Ministry of Health. Matt Herman, a representative from the Ministry of Health office, explained that while the province doesn’t allow pharmacies to display or promote tobacco sales, it’s B.C.’s policy to let drug stores decide to stop selling cigarettes.

Levasseur pointed out that it wouldn’t make sense for the drug stores to stop selling the cigarettes on their own because they’re profiting off the sales.

Mahlman disagrees; he noted that the cigarette industry is declining and that London Drugs isn’t profiting off the cigarette sales made in their stores. The money gets put back into the smoking cessation programs offered in the pharmacies, he explained.

London Drugs, like other pharmacies, offers the provincial Smoking Cessation Program to all eligible B.C. residents that want to quit. The company doesn’t pay for the program, it’s funded by the B.C. government — non-prescription nicotine replacement therapies are free and prescription cessation drugs are partially covered — but Mahlman said London Drugs covers the cost of things like training for staff offering the counselling and printing the advertising materials.

Mahlman said that London Drugs is passionate about getting people to stop smoking, but Levasseur doesn’t believe the company’s heart is in it.

Levasseur’s next steps aren’t solidified, but he’s considering hosting a larger protest and organizing a letter writing campaign to connect with the Ministry of Health.


@devonscarlett
devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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