I went to buy a few things from a pharmacy yesterday, one of a chain of pharmacies that have become ubiquitous in the US. As I was paying at the checkout, the avuncular (I love that word) sales assistant asked me if I’d like to buy some candy (packets of M&Ms, to be precise). He was taking part in a store sales competition where the associate achieving the highest number of candy bar sales in a day earned a prize.
Call me old-fashioned, but I was under the impression that pharmacies were supposed to promote health – selling medicine, vitamins, bandages and other handy items to make you feel better. Apparently not. Pharmacies (at least in the US) have no qualms about selling cigarettes, beer, wine, and every artificially sweetened and flavored candy bar you can imagine – hardly the health-promoting products you might expect. I read somewhere that one of the chain pharmacies is to start its own brand-name beer. How ethically responsible is that? There is something incongruous about being able to pick up your chocolates in one aisle and your diabetes products in the next. Pharmacies are really the one-stop shop, with nicotine patches located just feet from the cigarette counter.
I can hear the libertarians arguing about personal responsibility and that it’s not up to big business to monitor what we put in our bodies. They might even suggest that selling candy bars or cigarettes at a pharmacy is actually a good thing because customers can at least get counselled on the potential harmful effects of these products. I don’t buy that for a second. Human beings have many wonderful qualities, but self-restraint is often not high on that list. Sometimes we need a bit of help.
I will believe that pharmacies are serious about health when sales associates start competing for the highest sales of apples or blueberries, but somehow I think it will be a long wait.
Oh, and just out of curiosity, I looked up the origin of the word ‘pharmacy’. It derives from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘magic charm’ or ‘poison’. Ironic, huh?