SF board votes to ban cigarette sales in pharmacies

SAN FRANCISCO Starting this fall, San Francisco will be the first city in the United States to ban pharmacies from selling tobacco products.

The Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday to approve an amendment to the city’s health code that Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed April 29. The amendment bans drug stores from selling tobacco products, but does not affect supermarkets and big-box stores that operate pharmacies.

Proponents of the ordinance, including city health officials and anti-smoking groups, said that as centers of health care, drug stores that sold tobacco conveyed its acceptability to customers. Opponents, which included chain drug stores and a labor union representing retail employees, said the ordinance unfairly targeted drug stores and would likely divert smokers from drug stores to other retail outlets rather than discourage smoking.

Earlier in the month, Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, sent San Francisco’s mayor a letter, enumerating the reasons why NACDS opposed the ban. Among his points, Anderson said, “It is not credible that prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in traditional drug stores would reduce smoking. Ample other opportunities exist for the purchase of tobacco products. Such a ban would only succeed in making an arbitrary determination as to which retailers would be permitted to sell products that remain legitimate for sale in the state and in the nation. … There is hypocrisy in a policy that would maintain tax revenue from the sale of tobacco products, while depriving one retail segment of sales revenue from these products.”

A spokesperson for NACDS reiterated today that the organization’s position remains unchanged. “Pharmacies are vital providers of healthcare products and services, and smoking cessation products are among their offerings,” Anderson’s letter also stated. “Pharmacists are trained and knowledgeable on the available resources to stop smoking, and often counsel patients on smoking cessation products. It would be better for an individual who smokes to not be dissuaded from entering stores in which smoking cessation resources are available.”

The ban is modeled on similar provincial-level bans in Canada.

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