Convenience stores start sales of OTC drugs

Kyodo News

Convenience stores and supermarkets on Monday began selling nonprescription drugs, some around the clock, as deregulation under a revised pharmacy law took effect.

Under the revised Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, stores are no longer required to be staffed with a pharmacist to sell most nonprescription drugs, including cold tablets and aspirin, and can sell them simply by having sales clerks qualify and register with prefectural governments.

The entry by large-scale distributors into the drug retail market has pressed existing drugstore businesses to enhance their sales efforts, including by extending operating hours with their own registered sales clerks.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co., in a pilot program, became the first convenience store chain under the deregulation to begin 24-hour sales of nonprescription drugs.

After seeing the consumer response at a store in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, the chain plans to consider increasing the number of outlets selling such drugs around the clock, Seven-Eleven officials said.

Supermarket chain Aeon Co. started selling drugs priced 20 percent to 40 percent lower than its competitors at drug and other stores run by its 10 affiliated companies.

Qualification as a drug sales clerk is much easier and less costly than as a pharmacist, and since last year companies have encouraged their employees to qualify in the runup to the start of the new business environment.

Leading drugstore chain Matsumotokiyoshi Holdings Co. plans to counter competition from newcomers by increasing the number of its outlets operating 24 hours by stationing registered sales clerks.

The deregulation took effect despite protests from online drugstores, because it bans sales of nonprescription drugs over the Internet.

Two online drugstores — Kenko.com Inc. and Wellnet Co. — jointly filed a lawsuit against the government last week demanding that the ban be lifted.

The health ministry claims the ban is necessary because many nonprescription drugs, which could pose health risks if not taken correctly, should be sold to customers with pharmacists and other qualified venders in attendance.