Will San Francisco Ban Cigarettes at Pharmacies -- Again?

Categories: Government, Health
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Your purchasing options at city pharmacies may be shrinking...
City may expand tobacco ban to all pharmacies

It takes a mighty clumsy law to make clear-thinking people think like Big Tobacco's lawyers -- but San Francisco passed just such a law in 2008.The city forbade pharmacies such as Walgreen's and Rite Aid from selling smokes -- those places are in the "health business," after all. Never mind you can still purchase soda, candy, diet pills and other dreck at the aforementioned stores. And never mind you could still purchase cigarettes at supermarkets, Costco, and legions of corner liquor stores.

That seemed odd to Walgreen's and they filed suit. While it lost in district court, the Court of Appeals in June sided with the drugstore chain, ruling that it was unfairly singled out. So, today, the Board of Supervisors will vote on legislation that'd prevent Costco, Safeway, and any city pharmacy from hawking tobacco

The proposal, co-sponsored by both Supervisors Eric Mar and Bevan Dufty, would "eliminate the exemption of general grocery stores and big box stores from the general ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies."

By doing away with the odd exception in the original law, the city believes it can nullify Walgreen's lawsuit, without allowing the chain to get back into the tobacco business.

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Know your enemy...
"In Walgreen Co. v. City and County of San Francisco et al, the Court of Appeal found that it was unreasonable to apply the ban to pharmacies in general but not to supermarkets and 'big box' stores that contain pharmacies," reads the proposal's legislative digest. "This amendment has been proposed to head off further litigation over the proper remedy in the Walgreen case, and remove any cloud over the ongoing enforcement of the Article."

The expansion of the city's tobacco ban would add 14 drugstores to the 60 already on the no-smoking list. And while that mostly affects large businesses, it also includes stores like Charlie's in the Western Addition, as the Chronicle noted.

Finally, smokers will still be able to buy cigarettes in tobacco shops, liquor stores, and other establishments that don't also handle prescription medicines. And pharmacies will still be able to sell Hostess cakes, soda, or liquor. When previously asked by SF Weekly if the city would be within its rights to enact an edict preventing pharmacies -- in the "health business" after all -- from selling soda or desserts, the city attorney's office politely declined comment.

Update, 4:40 p.m.: As expected, the supes passed the Mar-Dufty proposal. It now heads to Mayor Gavin Newsom's desk for a signature or a veto. The measure passed by a non-veto-proof 7-3 vote -- though Supervisor David Campos, an all-but-certain ally, was not present. 

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