Philip Morris ends lawsuit against S.F.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris has dropped its federal lawsuit against The City over its ban of selling tobacco products in pharmacies, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Thursday.

San Francisco became the first city in the nation last year to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies. The ban impacted about 60 drug stores. City officials say drugstores such as Walgreens are supposed to promote health and should not sell harmful tobacco products.

The ban does not affect grocery stores or big-box chains that may also have onsite pharmacies.

Philip Morris USA Inc. sued The City in federal court in September 2008 arguing that the law — which was introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom and approved by the Board of Supervisors — violated its free speech rights by banning tobacco advertising and displays in the businesses. The company had lost its legal argument for a court-ordered injunction to prevent the law from going into effect, a ruling held up by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month.

“San Francisco’s local officials have the right and the duty to protect public health, and in this case they have a compelling rationale,” Herrera said in a statement. “Consumers — and especially young people — should reasonably expect pharmacies to serve their health needs, not to enable our leading cause of preventable death.”

Walgreen Co. has also sued The City seeking to invalidate the law. The company argues, among other points, that the ordinance violates the retailer’s right to equal protection under the state and federal constitutions. The company’s lawsuit was dismissed in San Francisco Superior Court and is now before the California Court of Appeal.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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