Pharmacy loyalty points, tobacco sales still in crosshairs of regulators

College of Pharmacists of B.C. aims to control retailers' conduct on health grounds

The regulatory body for B.C. pharmacists hasn’t given up on its agenda to ban pharmacies from handing out loyalty reward points on drug purchases, or to eventually ban cigarette sales.

A ban imposed by the College of Pharmacists of B.C. was struck down in B.C. Supreme Court last summer, but an appeal filed by the college will be heard in December.

The college argued loyalty points are a powerful lure for consumers that can alter their medication buying habits and potentially harm their health. It was fought in court by major supermarket chains.

The judge in the trial ruled the ban on all loyalty incentives was “unreasonable” and concerns raised were “illogical.”

College spokesman Mykle Ludvigsen wouldn’t comment on the grounds for appeal.

One of the objections raised was that insured patients who don’t pay out of pocket might continue to refill a prescription after they no longer need it just to collect more points and the unneeded drugs may be abused or diverted to the illegal drug trade.

Tobacco sales by pharmacies are also in the crosshairs of the college.

Ludvigsen said there is no specific timeline to impose such a ban but the college’s 2014 strategic plan calls for the board to pursue one.

“We’re the only province that currently allows cigarettes to be sold in premises that contain a pharmacy,” he said.

“It completely goes against the pharmacy as a health centre. To sell things we know kill you at the front of the store and to sell things that help you get better at the back of the store is a bit of a conflict.”

Retail chains have warned they would challenge the college’s jurisdiction if it moves to impose a tobacco ban and would also sue the college and its directors for lost sales that would result if their stores can’t sell cigarettes.

“The law does not take a positive view of activities which represent unwarranted restraint of trade,” says a letter to the college sent last fall by executives from London Drugs, Overwaitea Food Group, Safeway, Rexall, Sobey’s and Thrifty Foods.

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