New health officer wants tobacco ban in local pharmacies

Dr. Anju Goel has been public health officer for more than two months.

San Benito County’s new public health officer wants to make the sale of tobacco products illegal in local pharmacies and reduce the amount of related advertising in any store windows.
In early July, Dr. Anju Goel started as public health officer for the San Benito County Public Health Department. The leadership role involves setting broader public health policy and promoting facets of health to the general public. Goel succeeds Dr. Alvaro Garza in the role.
Goel in an interview with the Free Lance shared her perspective about the job and her plans for the role. A Wisconsin native, she came to San Benito County after public health roles in New York and Marin and San Mateo counties, and the past two years in the private sector working in software.
Among her plans, she said she wants to follow the lead of San Francisco, which became the first American city to ban sales of tobacco products in pharmacies in 2008 upon request from the mayor and a San Francisco board approval, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Goel noted that the county historically has made efforts to curb smoking and underscored a drop in the latest data for teen smoking – from 15.4 percent of the teen population in 2008 to 13.8 percent in 2010.
“We’ve been very active in taking measures to try and curb that,” Goel said regarding teen tobacco use. “We are following suit with what other counties have done, which is having pharmacies be unable to sell tobacco products. I believe that pharmacies are there to promote the health of the public. Selling tobacco products is in direct contradiction.”
Goel said she expects to move the matter forward within the next year. She also wants to address the number of ads posted on any local store fronts.
“We’re trying to lower the percentage,” Goel said. “Ideally, we would like it taken away altogether.”
One local store that would be affected by a pharmacy tobacco ban would be the Walgreens that opened in November 2013. Store manager Gilberto Garcia directed questions over tobacco products to the Walgreens corporate office, which could not be reached immediately.
The ability to make change drew her to public health while in medical school. Health officers’ level of authority to make changes is allowed in the state health and safety code, she said.
“Health officers’ powers are actually quite broad,” she said.
Look back for more from the interview with Goel.

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