Mayor aims to kick drug stores’ habit

San Francisco would become the first city in the nation to ban the sale of tobacco in pharmacies if legislation that was quietly introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom is approved.

If the Board of Supervisors adopts the legislation, hundreds of pharmacies in The City would have to stop selling tobacco products — including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco — as soon as October.

“This is a sensible measure to deal with health problems before they start, andit’s consistent with our prevention-focused efforts such as Healthy San Francisco and Shape Up SF,” Newsom said.

A violation would carry steep fines, ranging from $100 to $1,000.

The legislation says that “through the sale of tobacco products, pharmacies convey tacit approval of the purchase and use of tobacco products.”

Public Health Department Director Mitch Katz, who would oversee the enforcement, said it is a “conflict of interest” for pharmacies to sell tobacco products. In some cases, he said, people go to the stores to buy medication to treat health complications brought on by smoking.

Katz said the ban could reduce smoking as it creates another restriction that sends the message “smoking is bad.”

In recent years, San Francisco has snuffed out smoking in restaurants, parks, transit stops and most bars.

Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin said the “biggest concern” about the proposed ban is how it would impact the sales of other products.

The proposal is expected to pick up support from pharmacists.

Michael Negrete, CEO of the Pharmacy Foundation of California, said a business promoting health should not “sell things that are hazardous to health.”

Smokers seem to have a different outlook.

Shamilla Jensen, who had purchased a pack of cigarettes from a Walgreens on Market Street, called the proposed law “silly.”

“Isn’t this a country that touts our freedom?” she said. “Why can’t someone be free to go to Walgreens and buy a pack of cigarettes or not buy a pack of cigarettes?”

A pharmacy is considered a business that has a state-licensed pharmacist on site selling prescription pharmaceuticals, which includes businesses such as Walgreens and Rite-Aid. The prohibition does not apply to general grocery stores or big-box stores.

A Board of Supervisors committee could vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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