Northfield Hospital board opts for cigarette revenue

hospitallogo.jpgEarlier this week, the Northfield Hospital Board approved a plan to sell cigarettes in the Hospital Auxiliary Gift Shop. (Board minutes are here but January’s minutes are not yet online.)

It becomes the second City of Northfield facility to do so. The Municipal Liquor Store has sold cigarettes for years. Financial considerations, both short and long term, were at the basis of the board’s decision.

“We saw the significant revenue stream that the Muni gets from its cigarette sales and with cost pressures mounting in all areas of the hospital’s operations, it seemed a no-brainer,” said hospital administrator, Ken Stapek.

cig4.jpgBoard member Gina Lundblad added, “Obviously, smoking is a serious health issue and we have been quite aggressive with our public awareness campaigns. But these programs are expensive to run and since addicted smokers who aren’t trying to quit need to get their cigarettes from someplace, why not us? Why hand over that revenue stream to the Kwik Trips and Cubs when the money could be put to a more constructive use? Why make it easier for [muni liquor store manager] Stephen DeLong to hit his revenue numbers?”

Board member Brett Schlichting noted a recent report on cancer, citing this article in the Strib. “Health officials reported this week that cancer deaths in the United States dropped for the second year in a row. As chair of the board’s long-term planning committee, we can no longer count on a steady climb in the number of patient illnesses fueled by tobacco use. This trend is going to hurt us ten years down the road, so anything we can do to help mitigate this can protect our investment in this fine facility and the high-paying jobs for the local economy that it provides.”

Hospital public relations spokesman Scott Crow indicated that the board was prepared to handle any backlash that might come from their decision. “We’ve retained an attorney from Kirkland & Ellis to advise us, a firm with decades of experience defending tobacco company Brown & Williamson. Although we appreciate the legal work that Northfield attorney Lance Hvistendahl does for us, the board felt it needed someone from a firm who puts the needs of the hospital ahead of general society.”

“I’m appalled at the board’s decision,” wrote American Lung Association of MN Executive Dircector Jennifer Drenckhahn in an email to Locally Grown. “Cigarettes are the only legal product that, when used as directed, still kill you. The city of Northfield should not be profiting by helping to kill its own citizens. Besides, they’re taxpayers. Why kill off that source of revenue?”

Northfield School Board member Diane Berthelsen intends to raise the issue at next board meeting. “The number of 18 year-olds at the high school who smoke is quite high, so the revenue from us selling cigarettes in the high school cafeteria could be significant. I might support the plan if the profits were dedicated to our drug prevention programs.”

11:30am update: Before contacting the hospital or board members about this blog post, be sure to see the comments thread for additional information.

24 thoughts on “Northfield Hospital board opts for cigarette revenue”

  1. Griff – I vehemently object to this article. Although it is apparently a sarcastic spoof, many people could and, I believe, will react against the Hospital withouth realizing the nature of your comments and attributions. I request that you publish a disclaimer and clarification very clearly stating that there is no truth to the Hospital selling cigarettes or even considering it, that the article was meant as a sarcastic manner of aiming at whatever your target happened to be and that you regret any misimpression the story caused.

    Thank you.

  2. Hi Barbara! No smokin’ any cigs, neither the funny types nor otherwise. But I’ve been smokin’ mad at the city for a while, as you might have guessed.

    John, I doubt that anyone would react against the hospital based on my piece. And even if they did, what would they do, other than call and complain?

    My spoof is a feeble attempt to draw attention to the City of Northfield’s policy of selling cigarettes to its citizens. ‘Twould be great if the Hospital Board put some pressure on the City Council to stop the practice.

    I have now edited the end of my piece to draw attention to this comment thread.

  3. Griff – Thanks for your follow-up. I hope those who read it also read your edit and comments.

    I really enjoy pointed, humorous satire, political and otherwise. However, I feel that your article, whether or not it causes anyone to ‘call and complain’, causes a negative relection on the hospital. The article is not clear that it’s a shot at the City for selling cigarettes to citizens. The hospital mission includes healthy community initiatives.

    The community trusts the hospital’s role and I think we need to be sensitive to not compromise that trust, even though unintentional.

    Thanks again for your clarification.

  4. Okay, John, thanks. I have a lot of admiration for the hospital and what it does for the community beyond its treatment role. We’ve gotten all our family bike helmets from your outreach/prevention programs, as just one example.

    When we have City Administrator Al Roder on our podcast show next Monday, I’ll raise the issue of the Muni selling cigs with him.

    I’ll attend an upcoming City Council meeting to ask the Councillors to review the Muni’s policy.

    1. Can I attend an upcoming Hospital board meeting to ask that the board adopt a resolution of some kind against the practice, urging the City Council to make a change?

    2. Would you support the such a resolution?

  5. Griff – Thank you again for your comments supporting the hospital.

    Please direct your request to Bobbi Jenkins at the hospital administration office for processing with the administration. I assume they will respond to you. Of course, the board considers all set agenda items.

    You are always welcome to attend board meetings.

  6. I hesitate to delve into this. However, I must say the part attributed to Brett Schlichting was particularly funny. Any feedback from him on it?

  7. Thanks, Stephanie.. you made my day!

    However, before John says “I told you so,” please note that there is no such person on the hospital board named “Brett Schlichting.”

  8. Can I attend an upcoming Hospital board meeting to ask that the board adopt a resolution of some kind against the practice, urging the City Council to make a change?

    Well you’re at it, why not ask them to try to get the city to stop selling liquor at the liquor store? In your David Bly interview this past Monday, you claim that it is more tolerable for the city to sell alcohol than cigarettes because alcohol can be used safely. But let’s face it, with little exception, alcohol — albeit not as harmful as cigarettes — is never really good for you. But that shouldn’t matter.

    All laws are a balance between rights and the influence those rights would have. Murder is not a legal right because of the negative societal influence it has. And we as a country — and even a global community — have decided that cigarettes are not sufficiently harmful to make them illegal. So this legal, accepted, and yes — somewhat harmful activity is a right but not one we want our city to condone? I guess what I’m saying is if it were really so bad we’re in utter digust with our municipal stores for selling it, shouldn’t it be illegal?

    Your comparison is somewhat off in that a hospital is concerned only with the health of a patient, but a city is concerned with the whole citizen — including their right to harm their body on some level, if that’s their choice. And if Northfield can make some money in promoting that right of choice, why not?

  9. Griff,

    Your story is a weird way to start a discussion.

    Is the fact that the city sells a legal product a News Flash?

    Why are you concerned about the city selling cigarettes in a liqour store without being equally concerned about the city selling liquor in a liquor store?

    Why does the city sell liquor – can’t a private company do the same?

    What is the public purpose?

  10. For those of you that actually appreciated this article, I highly recommend picking up the film “Thank You for Smoking.” For those of you that are offended, I suggest picking up a sense of humor.

  11. Maybe this is funny. I guess. Send it to the onion. But, on a website that i thought i could find honest information re nfld this is rather offensive. After living in nfld off and on for 22 years…a city where anything seems possible, i wasn’t laughing.

    It just doesn’t work for me to have a wonderful discussion about death and dying and then throw this up there a couple of days later.

    Look nfld elected this denison character instead of good old vic, so although many are on the intelligent side of things, some of us are not. And might, as John said, think this was true…

    In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter. With 16 comments, this probably got locally grown it’s biggest response ever and i know how much i like getting responses on my website (and hits). So in the end it worked!

  12. This would be a very serious, if it wasn’t so funny. Good-ona Griff. The Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary states that satire is a piece of writing that makes someone look foolish.

  13. OOOh, someone thinks deep.

    Sean Hayford O’Leary: “All laws are a balance between rights and the influence those rights would have.”

    What is a “right,” by the way?

    What about in foreign situations– non-democracy situations? Some of those laws regarding the behavior aren’t a balance between rights and influence. No balance, anyway.

    Balance… Between freedom and responsibility, perhaps?

  14. Griff: In Eden Prairie we have three municipal liquor stores with gross sales of over $10,000,000 in 2006. We don’t sell tobacco products. We stopped doing that in 2002. We did it for two reasons. One, my City Council there was taking a hard stance on tobacco issues and wished to be free of the hypocrisy of selling tobacco while speaking against it. And two, the net profit wasn’t worth it. I’d be really surprised if the net profit from selling tobacco products at the Northfield Muni was sufficient to make the City want to stay in that business.

  15. Misc replies to:

    Tyson: no funny papers, funny man.

    Sean: I do think alcohol can be good for you and I don’t think there’s harm in experiencing its mood-altering properties in moderation.

    City Councillor Jim Pokorney: Good to have you here, Jim. You wrote:

    Why are you concerned about the city selling cigarettes in a liquor store without being equally concerned about the city selling liquor in a liquor store?

    I think tobacco is unique among all legal products sold in this country. It’s the only one when, used as directed, still harms you every time you use it and still kills you when used in moderation. I think it’s a bad idea for a governmental entity to be making money from a product that it knows will always cause harm to the person who buys it, and as we now know, very likely causes harm to those who happen to be around the person when it’s being smoked.

    The association between alcohol and tobacco use has been around forever but I don’t think they are inextricably linked anymore — Northfield already has at least two non-smoking bars/restaurants.

    Should the City be in the liquor business at all, competing with private industry? I think there are good arguments on both sides of that issue which probably would be better to discuss separately, as it’s not really the focus here. I’m currently in favor of city-owned munis so that cities can put the profits to public use. My wife and I buy at least one bottle of wine a week from our muni and are members of its wine club.

    S Cade: My spoof wasn’t about driving traffic to the site, though every blogger likes to have an ever-larger audience. I hope you can see that this is a real issue that I care about as a citizen.

    Wirerivet: I’m not sure that making anyone look foolish is the purpose of satire. I’m more partial to the wikipedia definition.

    Nick: I also loved the movie Thank you for smoking.

    Scott Neal: Good to have a City Manager’s input. (full disclosure: Scott is a blogger client of mine.) I’m sure the revenue the City of Northfield gets from cigarette sales at the Muni is very minor. And I’d guess that the staff there would say that the only reason they have them on sale is for the convenience of their customers.

    To all: Why did I pick on the hospital for my spoof? Because, like the Muni, they’re part of the City of Northfield, and since their mission is all about physical health and prevention of illness, I think they should pressure their sister organization to quit selling cigarettes. Like Scott said, I think it’s hypocritical for one arm of the organization to be preaching tobacco’s hazards and another arm to be enabling/profiting from its sale.

  16. There’s nothing like satire. Let er rip, Griff. And by the way, “we” are the city, arent we? All of us who live and work in these historical confines. And doesn’t that include the hospital? And aren’t “we” already selling cigarettes? And does it really make a difference what location “we” pick to do that, as long as “we” are selling them legally? Have we done less harm to “us” if “we” sell them at the liquor store instead of the hospital? If “we” sold them at the hospital instead of the liquor store wouldn’t the irony be a bit more obvious and perhaps result in fewer of the nasty little things being purchased?

    OH wait. That was your point, I think. See how much more interesting it was when it came in the form of satire?

  17. Thanks, Lance. And your logic is impeccable!

    I do keep hearing “convenience for the customer” as the reason the Muni keeps selling cigarettes.

    Surely that’s not enough of a reason, as otherwise, why not sell them at the hospital for the convenience of both staff and patients who smoke. And the library. And city hall.

    The additional rationale has to be that the City believes alcohol and tobacco use are linked for enough of its customers that it should make them available.

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