• Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Report

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Consumers will be able to buy aspirin, cold medicine and other common nonprescription drugs at convenience stores and supermarkets starting on Monday, when the revised Pharmaceutical Affairs Law finally kicks in.

Convenience stores and supermarkets will be allowed to sell most over-the-counter drugs at outlets as long as they are staffed with sales clerks licensed as “registered venders.”

Up to this point, stores were required to hire pharmacists to sell any kind of drugs, even aspirin. But since it’s much easier to get licensed as a registered vender than a pharmacist, many retailers plan to hire an army of venders rather than pharmacists.

The revision will also let customers buy OTC drugs at convenience stores around the clock.

Online drugstores, however, are protesting the revision because it also bans sales of nonprescription drugs on the Internet.

The health ministry claims the ban is needed because many nonprescription drugs pose health risks when improperly used.

Last week, two online drugstores filed a joint lawsuit against the government demanding the revision’s nullification.

Kenko.com Inc. and Wellnet Co. claim the new rule unjustifiably limits the scope of their business and say the ministry failed to recognize the fact that most online drug stores are adequately licensed and staffed by pharmacists.

Online shopping mall giant Rakuten Inc. is also campaigning against the ban. Every time a customer clicks the “Buy” button at a Rakuten-linked outlet, President Hiroshi Mikitani appears and asks the customers to join the campaign.

Rakuten is soliciting signatures for an online petition and had collected more than 1.5 million signatures as of Saturday afternoon.

As online drugstores to desperately search for an out, new entrants are bullish about their prospects.

A senior official at one convenience store chain said the new rules are good because they will let people get nearly all the OTC drugs they might need at more places instead of being forced to seek out a pharmacy or drug store.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. President Ryuichi Isaka said the new rules will open up new business opportunities. Seven-Eleven plans to start selling OTC drugs in the Tokyo metropolitan area in June by teaming up with drug store chain Ain Pharmaciez Inc.

Smaller rival FamilyMart Co. is also preparing to sell OTC products in June at its outlets around the clock.

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