TRENTON — A state Senate committee Tuesday gave the initial endorsement to a bill banning pharmacies from selling tobacco and e-cigarette products.

The bill, S992, was amended Tuesday by the Senate health committee to include retailers that contain pharmacies, such as supermarkets.

“They have to make a decision: Do they want to sell cigarettes, or do they want to offer prescriptions to their patrons?” said state Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Middlesex, the committee chairman and bill sponsor.

“Pharmacies are now offering health services and retail clinics throughout the country and throughout the state of New Jersey, and so patients are receiving health services and we feel that it’s contradictory to sell tobacco products in the same setting where people are receiving health services,” said Corinne Orlando, director of government relations for the New Jersey Food Council.

Jonathan Resnick’s family owns a third-generation distribution business in New Brunswick with 140 workers. It supplies cigarettes to ShopRite supermarkets. He said he doubts public health would benefit as customers could just go to convenience stores.

“We believe it will be an existential threat to our business,” said Resnick, the company’s vice president for sales and marketing.

“Obviously they drive sales out of our retailers,” said Mary Ellen Peppard, vice president of the New Jersey Food Council, “but they tend to drive sales to other states, to online and in some cases, unfortunately, to illicit sales.”

Resnick, in response to a question from state Sen. Dick Codey, estimated that cigarette volume had been dropping 5% a year and then that accelerated in the last two years, as vaping gains popularity.

“Be honest with you, in just a couple years, I think cigarettes would be comparable to land phones: Going out of existence,” Codey said.

State Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, criticized a section of the proposal that would allow pharmacies to sell medical marijuana, if they’re licensed to do so, but not cigarettes.

“We are not allowing a legal item to be sold in a pharmacy. We’re saying you can’t sell it. Yet we’re selling marijuana to be smoked,” Singer said. “If you’re against smoking, you’re against smoking.”

Vitale said medical marijuana is different from cigarettes that produce hundreds of chemicals that can be harmful.

“Medical cannabis is a pharmaceutical, and it’s meant to help people with a condition, unlike cigarettes, which is counterproductive to what medical cannabis will do, or seeks to do,” Vitale said.

Pharmacies that violate the proposed prohibition could be fined $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation and $1,000 for subsequent violations. They could also be disciplined by the State Board of Pharmacy.

The bill is a long way from becoming state law, needing at least five additional approvals between the Legislature and the governor, and wouldn’t take effect until mid-2020 if at all.

A similar bill, not applying to supermarkets, got released by the Senate health committee in 2016, only to languish for the next 20 months in the Senate budget committee. That’s where the new version of the bill was sent after its first approval Tuesday.

Another bill that advanced Tuesday would prohibit coupons, rebates and price reduction promotions in sales of tobacco and vapor products.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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