Magazine article Drug Topics

Walgreens Sues over San Francisco Tobacco Ban

Magazine article Drug Topics

Walgreens Sues over San Francisco Tobacco Ban

Article excerpt

Walgreens has asked California courts to block the city of San Francisco's new ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies. The request for an injunction was set to be heard in state Superior Court on Sept. 30, the day before the ban was scheduled to take effect.

"The ordinance lacks basic fairness," Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said. "This is clearly discriminatory in that it restrains only one class of retailers."

Walgreens' complaint alleges the new ordinance is anticompetitive and violates the equal protection clauses of the United States and California constitutions.

The complaint also charges that the city ignored its own requirement for a fiscal impact report on any measure that could affect tax revenues or finances. Eliminating pharmacy tobacco sales could reduce city taxes.

Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the city Department of Public Heahh, disagreed with Walgreens" complaint.

"To say this is your right to sell the substance associated with the number one cause of preventable death in America today?" Katz told reporters. "It's unbelievable to me."

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the ban in August. As of Oct. 1, pharmacies are prohibited from selling cigarettes or other tobacco products. Other retailers, including grocery stores and mass merchandisers with pharmacy operations, can continue tobacco sales.

The ordinance was introduced by city Mayor Gavin Newsom and is modeled on similar bans in eight Canadian provinces. The Board of Supervisors passed the legislation on two consecutive eight-to-three votes.

The ordinance affects 52 of 54 Walgreens stores in the city. Walgreens' other two stores do not have pharmacy operations and will be allowed to continue tobacco sales. Other chain pharmacies, including Rite-Aid and Longs Drugs (which CVS is attempting to acquire) will also have to eliminate their tobacco counters.

Competitors, including Safeway, Lucky Supermarkets, and Costco, are not affected. The ordinance specifically excludes grocery stores, mass merchandisers, and other retail operations where pharmacy is not the focus of operations.

Independent pharmacies are largely unaffected because most have already stopped selling tobacco products on their own. "Just about every independent pharmacy in San Francisco, 98 percent of them, stopped selling tobacco because it kills patients," said Fred Mayer, president of Pharmacy Planning Services, Inc. …

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