An article by David Quilty Executive Director The Pharmacy Guild of Australia
You can dress a wolf in sheep’s clothing but it is still a wolf.
We all know that tobacco and alcohol are among the two most prevalent causes of preventable illness, salve chronic health conditions and unnecessary deaths.
Likewise, alcohol abuse costs over $15 billion a year, including the health care costs of managing a range of chronic conditions, both physical and mental, as well as the treatment of injuries and other health impacts of excessive alcohol consumption.
One of the primary reasons why Australia’s medicine system has such high levels of integrity and public trust is that the community pharmacies that responsibly dispense these medicines must be owned by pharmacists … and only pharmacists.
Pharmacists are, first and foremost, health care providers. This is their profession, their core skill set and their abiding passion. One of the hallmarks of Australia’s community pharmacies is their longstanding reputation for putting patients before profits.
True health professionals don’t compromise when it comes to health outcomes. They don’t pursue profits at the expense or to the detriment of good health outcomes. They certainly don’t retail products like tobacco and alcohol with such known damaging health impacts.
The same cannot be said of Australia’s big supermarkets.
These grocery businesses are effectively underwritten by their massive reliance on cigarette sales.
They are also the largest sellers of takeaway alcohol with in excess of 60 per cent of the market.
Aztec Australia’s 2012 point-of-sale grocery data shows that tobacco is far and away the largest product category sold by supermarkets at nearly $7billion a year – nearly three times the value of the next largest category.
Thirteen of the top 20 selling grocery items are cigarettes (five of the remaining seven are soft drinks).
All twenty of the top 20 selling non-food grocery items are cigarettes.
And the top two highest selling manufacturers to supermarkets by value are British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris.
The supermarkets’ addiction to cigarettes is one of the reasons why there is no political support for allowing community pharmacies to operate from within supermarkets.
In recent years, the two big supermarket oligopolies have decided they can make a buck out of non-pharmacy, health care lines.
I say ‘make a buck’ quite deliberately because it is the prospect of making profits that motivates them, not any genuine interest in helping Australians become more healthy.
If they had any real interest in health, they would stop selling cigarettes. But they won’t, because they are addicted to their massive tobacco profits.
In recent weeks, Woolworths has started advertising basic health checks and health advice under a new ‘health & wellness’ banner.
This is the height of hypocrisy.
The company that profits so much from retailing tobacco and alcohol products which are the biggest preventable causes of ill health and death is claiming to be interested in health care.
This is a fundamental conflict of interest.
You cannot credibly claim to be some sort of health destination when you make so much money from selling the most lethally addictive, legally available product known to man.
For health professionals like pharmacists with a genuine interest in delivering better health outcomes, Woolworths’ shallow foray into health care advice and information is absolutely galling.
A wolf is still a wolf, regardless of such crude attempts to dress it up in sheep’s clothing.