Retail Pharmacies in San Francisco Bear Brunt of Ban on Tobacco Sales

By Gebhart, Fred | Drug Topics, September 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Retail Pharmacies in San Francisco Bear Brunt of Ban on Tobacco Sales


Gebhart, Fred, Drug Topics


San Francisco has become the first city in the United States to ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products in pharmacies. The sales ban, which takes effect Oct. 1, passed by an 8-3 vote of the city's Board of Supervisors in late July.

"A pharmacy should be a place you go to get better, not a place you go to get cancer," a spokesman for San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who sponsored the ordinance, said. The citywide ban is modeled on similar legislation that bans pharmacy sales of tobacco products in most Canadian provinces.

According to city officials, the ban will affect about 70 pharmacies, including WaIgreens, Rite-Aid, and the handful of independent pharmacies that are still selling tobacco. Most independents in the city have already stopped selling tobacco products on their own.

The new ordinance does not apply to grocery stores, such as Safeway, or big-box retailers, such as Costco, that have pharmacy outlets as part of a larger retail operation.

Walgreens, which has the largest number of pharmacies in San Francisco, said the ban amounts to commercial discrimination against retail pharmacy outlets. Spokesman Michael Polzin did not argue with the public health intent of the ordinance, but the company objects to its commercial impact.

"The ordinance lacks basic fairness," Polzin told Drug Topics. "It unfairly penalizes certain classes of retailers while unfairly advantaging others."

Polzin said Walgreens is considering its options, including legal action to block the ban.

Tobacco sales typically represent low single digits in terms of retail sales, Polzin said.

"We're not just impacted by tobacco sales," he stated. "We are also impacted by the loss of all the other purchases the smoker makes while in the store. You have to look at all of the store as part of the transaction that we would be losing."

The citywide ban was actively supported by the California Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and other health-oriented groups. A study by Yale University researchers found that 82 percent of pharmacists and 72 percent of adults surveyed supported a ban on the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies.

Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, dean of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy, said, "There is no place in a setting that promotes health to sell a product that unquestionably causes death and disease."

Other faculty members testified in support of the ban and wrote opinion articles for local media outlets. …

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