Editorial: Tobacco-sale ban is too narrow

Although unlikely to happen, it is technically still possible Tuesday for the Board of Supervisors to overturn their particularly misguided ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies, which would be exactly the right thing to do. Like all San Francisco legislation, the ban faces its mandatory second vote Tuesday.

But those second votes typically just rubber-stamp the previous meeting’s ballot. And already several supervisors are on record as hoping to widen The City’s drugstore tobacco sales “Prohibition” to even more types of retailers. They see the pharmacy tobacco ban submitted by Mayor Gavin Newsom as a relatively easy-to-pass early step toward a smoke-free city.

Here is what the board approved 8-3 last week: Starting Sept. 30, San Francisco smokers will be unable to buy tobacco products at chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and Rite Aid, or any of the few mom and pop neighborhood drugstores still surviving in The City. Violators could be fined up to $1,000.

However, a convenient tobacco fix remains easily available at supermarkets or big-box chains — even those boasting in-branch pharmacies — not to mention at any handy corner grocery or liquor store.

Naturally, it should come as no surprise that San Francisco is the first city in America to forbid pharmacy sales of tobacco. Our pioneering ban is modeled on regulations in eight Canadian provinces. However, similar proposals failed this year in New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

Public health advocates are, of course, joyous about any new restrictions on tobacco sales and would be delighted for The City to continue banning more and more outlets. After all, there has long been irrefutable evidence for the deadliness of smoking. Cigarettes are blamed for some 400,000 deaths each year — one of every five American fatalities. One-fifth of the nation’s adults still smoke and one-third of these smokers are below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On the other hand, it is also possible to make a reasoned, if considerably less emotion-packed, case against the negative effects of “nanny-state” government. While The Examiner fully agrees it would be fine and wonderful if every human being stopped smoking, it is wrong to harm just a few businesses in the effort to halt tobacco sales in bits and pieces.

Forbidding cigarette purchases in pharmacies will be ineffective because there are still many other places to easily obtain a pack. It is unfair because it targets a handful of businesses for losses, while sparing others offering the same product mix. It is also weirdly illogical, because smokers who might be thinking of quitting would have smoking-cessation products right on hand at a drugstore; while forcing them into a liquor store merely encourages impulse purchases of alcohol.

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