I was idly standing in the supermarket checkout, as you do. It was fairly early in the morning, and most of the checkouts only had one person going through so I hit the nearest one that seemed to be nearly finished.
The woman was chatting to the cashier about I have no idea what. Then the cashier picked up the box of Lemsip and some other cold thingy.
‘I can only sell you two of these because they contain paracetamol,’ she explained.
We then all listened entranced to the customer’s heart-rending tale of how her husband had a cold last week [‘you know what men are like’, she added] and she needed to stock up the store cupboard right that minute.
Really? Now having a cold is bad news but it isn’t exactly the plague or ebola.
Then there was a problem. Not only did she have a pack of Lemsip and whatever else, she also had one of those bottles of something for a cold. You can tell I don’t do cold remedies.
‘Does this one contain paracetamol?’ asked the cashier.
‘Probably,’ said Ms Cold Medicine Addict.
The cashier looked at the bottle and again explained that the store policy was to only sell two paracetamol products and that she couldn’t go against that.
Ms CMA started to get upset and explained how utterly vital it was that morning to buy a load of cold medicines just in case somebody in the household caught a cold in the next few weeks.
Then she pointed out that only a week or a few days ago, she had bought not only two packets of Lemsip but two packets of ibuprofen as well, which was much stronger.
Now, I am no painkiller expert, having never bought one in my 50+ years of life, but as far as I know, paracetamol and ibuprofen are not the same thing. They may well both be analgesic (pain-relieving) active ingredients that are found in other medicines, but their chemical make-up is different. Apart from anything else, ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and paracetamol is not. So, unless the store had a policy on not selling more than two packs of ibuprofen in combination with paracetamol purchases, Ms CMA’s comment was irrelevant.
When I got home I decided to look up this strange rationing of paracetamol-based products.
Apparently back in the last century (ha!) new regulations came into force in the UK in 1998 that limited the number of painkillers that could be sold in one packet to 16. This was to prevent the 200 or so accidental deaths and suicides that happen every year due to overdoses. It seemed the government hoped to reduce the number of deaths by 10% – that works out at 20 by my reckoning.
Now while I don’t advocate overdosing for one minute, faffing around with tablet packaging, virtually doubling the price, and supposedly limiting the sales to potentially save 20 lives wouldn’t be a priority on my government list of new laws.
Especially when anyone with half a brain would just visit endless shops if they really wanted to buy lots of paracetamol-based tablets.
And this thought occurred to me while I was listening to this amazing drama unfolding in front of me. Why is Ms CMA not just shutting up and going to another pharmacy for another few boxes or bottles of whatever?
Because she didn’t have any cash. She only had her American Express card. And she didn’t think a pharmacy would like her buying a couple of cold remedies on her card. Even the cashier had suggested she go over to the pharmacy branch of the store and buy a couple of extras.
Meanwhile, the till next to me had seen at least three customers through in the time I had been avidly listening to the pill opera. I contemplated moving my half dozen items across for speedy service. But no, I was too gripped to find out what happened next.
‘Shall I call the supervisor?’ asked the cashier wearily.
‘Yes please. I’m not happy with this. AT ALL,’ said Ms CMA.
To be fair, she did keep apologising to me for the delay. Hey, free entertainment. I smiled nicely.
The supervisor appeared. We all listened to the same story about the whining poorly husband, the empty store cupboard, the possibility of even yet more colds in the next few days and the essential need to buy as much as possible this very minute. Oh and guests were turning up at quarter to ten. They probably had colds as well.
In spite of all those extenuating circumstances, the supervisor backed up her member of staff and repeated the two products only rule.
Supervisors get paid more to avoid confrontation and think smart. ‘Shall I take these over to the pharmacist and see if they will let you buy all three?’ she asked.
Ms CMA agreed. Off trotted the supervisor. The remaining items were all checked through the till and Ms CMA was given the bill.
Another problem. The cashier had rung through two of the paracetamol products and the supervisor had walked off with them. Ms CMA wasn’t happy paying for them when she didn’t have them in her sticky little hands.
Luckily the supervisor came back, and said – guess what? – the pharmacist wouldn’t allow the sale of more than two products. I don’t know how I kept a straight face.
And I’m thinking when I have a cold, I drink weak black tea, hot water and lemon, sometimes with honey, and if I could find the energy I might consider rushing out to buy a bottle of whisky to slug into it as well. I never do, but it’s always an option. This reliance on Lemsip et al was fascinating me. I began to wonder what I was missing out on.
The cashier started ringing my items through. I wondered if I would be allowed to purchase toilet cleaner without ID or a prescription in case it could be toxic even though it was Ecover, but it went through without a murmur. So did the three bottles of cider for a fiver on special offer.
Ms CMA and the supervisor were still in deep discussion. I was still listening. Ms CMA repeated her assertion that she had been sold a million painkillers the previous week at the same store by someone else.
The supervisor looked very serious. ‘If we find out who that was they will be in deep trouble,’ she said ominously.
I could understand Ms CMA being racked off with what appeared like a bureaucratic petty store policy. Especially if she thought she had bought the same thing a short while before.
But hectoring and bullying the cashier was unreasonable and potentially putting someone else’s job on the line because she wanted to prove her point and couldn’t be arsed to go to another pharmacist to stock up that empty store cupboard was downright selfish. If the store has a policy, it isn’t up to a cashier to break it and risk their job, and it is beyond the pale to dob someone in who may have sold you something in error previously.
In fact reading up on it, I doubt they did. An excellent thread here on a mountain biking forum for some bizarre reason !! pretty much summarises everything about the whole issue.
Must register on that forum. Wonder if they know as much about bikes?
Back to the checkout. Ms CMA and supervisor were still deep in discussion (?) I paid. ‘Have a nice day,’ I said, and grinned at the cashier. She smiled back.
Seriously though, and I guess most of my readers will know this. Cold medicines do not get rid of the cold. The analgesics lessen the headache and the other stuff decongests your nose for easier breathing.
I wonder what people did before Night Nurse and Lemsip? I use pine and eucalyptus essential oils for decongestion. The hot drinks I’ve already mentioned. Good food helps. Carnivores can indulge in beef tea or chicken soup, I tend to go for anything curried or with chilli/cayenne in it, a miso soup, or a vegetable soup. Headaches wear off, probably in a not dissimilar time to the effect of a painkiller.
There is life out there without cold remedies. But if you do choose to indulge in them, read the active ingredients listed on the packaging so you know what you are buying, and make sure you read the information leaflet so you don’t accidentally overdose. No more than eight paracetamol in 24 hours. Shovelling in potentially dangerous drugs because you haven’t informed yourself isn’t clever.
1) I don’t see any circumstances where it is acceptable to bully cashiers or supervisors, even though store policies can be frustrating for customers. If you do want to have a go at someone make sure it is at least a supervisor, or better still a manager – but not a checkout operator. They are not paid to make decisons about store policy and don’t deserve to be the butt of our frustration.
2) If you take a load of paracetamol or any other painkillers for colds, please try to learn about what you are taking. Read the information leaflets and learn about active ingredients so you know what the risks are and what any adverse reactions may be. This applies to any drugs you may be taking, including prescription drugs. ALWAYS read the information leaflets. If you can’t read or the print is too small, ask someone to read it out to you, or ask for a large print version (well, I live in hopes they may be available).
3) Consider using alternative ways of alleviating the pain involved with the common cold – which are usually a sore throat, throbbing head, blocked nose. Your cold isn’t going to go away any faster or slower regardless of how many paracetamol or other cold remedies you take. And preferably stay at home, if possible, so you don’t pass it on to someone else who really doesn’t want your grotty cold.