City, Walgreens throw first punches in legal fight

Walgreens’ legal fight to continue selling cigarettes at stores in San Francisco places the drugstore chain’s financial interests ahead of the health of The City’s residents, the City Attorney’s Office argued in a brief filed Thursday.

San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban cigarette sales at pharmacies when the Board of Supervisors approved the legislation sponsored by Mayor Gavin Newsom on Aug. 5. Walgreens filed a lawsuit against The City on Sept. 9, which will be heard Sept. 30 in California Superior Court, the day before the law is scheduled to take effect.

“There is no legal basis for granting such a request,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Thursday.

City legislators approved the ban on the grounds that selling tobacco products at drugstores — where customers tend to seek products to improve their health — sends mixed messages, particularly to impressionable teens, according to Herrera’s brief.

“You go to a pharmacy to get better, not to get cancer,” said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the Mayor’s Office who called Walgreens’ legal complaint “nothing but a Hail Mary.”

However, Walgreens representatives say the ban is unfair because it doesn’t include supermarkets and other chain stores that sell health aids.

“The City admits that this ordinance won’t impact the amount of tobacco products purchased, and also admits that businesses that are allowed to continue selling cigarettes would [see] more sales and more jobs,” Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said. “The City is rewarding retailers who continue selling cigarettes and penalizing those that don’t.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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