Smokers are huffing and businesses fuming over a controversial new proposal to drastically reduce the number of stores in The City that can sell cigarettes.
Since 2003, retailers hawking tobacco products in San Francisco have had to apply for a special permit. The permitting process helps The City keep track of sellers and crack down on those vending to minors, officials said.
But now there are too many permits citywide — particularly in low-income neighborhoods — according to city officials and anti-tobacco advocates, who have created legislation that would greatly reduce the number of stores that sell tobacco.
An initial proposal imposes a cap of 35 permits for each of the 11 supervisor districts — 385 total in The City. That is a more than a two-thirds reduction from the 1,097 stores currently selling tobacco products citywide.
The proposal would not take away permits from businesses, but it would reduce them through attrition until there are no more than 35 per district. Also, owners would not be able to transfer the permits when they sell their stores, said Janet Clyde, a commissioner in the Office of Small Business.
The proposal might limit options for smokers, but it would also limit tobacco exposure to children, said Matt Rosen, senior director of community programs for the Youth Leadership Institute.
The institute wrote the legislation and is receiving guidance from Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and the Department of Public Health.
The legislation is still being vetted and has not been endorsed by a supervisor.
“[Children] can see advertising,” Rosen said. “They can see stores that are visibly selling tobacco and other kinds of products that aren’t very good for them.”
The Department of Health says limiting permits would be an extension of its “commitment to public health.” Last year, tobacco-related death and disease cost The City $4,310 per smoker, anti-tobacco activists say.
Opponents of the proposal, mainly from the small-business community, say the bill would severely damage the health of retailers in The City.
For most stores, “approximately 30 percent of the revenue is tobacco-related,” said Jimmy Shamieh, president of the Arab American Grocers Association, which has proposed alternative legislation that bans new permits but allows a transfer to new owners.
The stores become “valueless” when owners cannot transfer their tobacco permit to a person who wants to purchase the store, Shamieh said.
“It will change the landscape of San Francisco as we know it,” Shamieh said. “It will make it corporate-friendly. It will be devastating to mom-and-pop businesses.”
While small-business advocates do not like the proposal, they say they are all for limiting tobacco sales in The City.
If The City is intent on discontinuing a business’ tobacco permit, it should help small businesses modify their business model in a way that would make up for the lost value, said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the Office of Small Business.
Limiting nicotine sales latest step in city’s war on smoking
The legislation to reduce the number of stores that can sell cigarettes is the latest attack against tobacco in The City.
Last year, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies. The law exempts supermarkets and big-box stores, such as Costco, that contain pharmacies.
Also, The City recently imposed a 20-cent fee on each pack of cigarettes sold in San Francisco to offset the cost to clean up cigarette butts from city streets.
Supervisor Eric Mar is also reigniting stalled legislation that would forbid smoking in a slew of new settings, adding to an existing ban in bars, restaurants, parks, transit stops and taxicabs.
The bill would expand no-smoking zones to include farmers markets and the outdoor seating areas of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops. Smoking would also be prohibited while waiting in lines at ATMs, theaters, athletic events and concert venues.
Apartment buildings and other multiunit residences would also have new areas with no-smoking signs. Smoking would be prohibited in common areas of apartment buildings, including hallways, elevators, parking lots, lobbies, waiting areas, bathrooms, laundry facilities and recreation areas. — Mike Aldax
Snuffing out tobacco shops
A large disparity exists in the number of stores selling tobacco products in various S.F. districts.
|District||Number of stores selling tobacco||District population|
Source: San Francisco Department of Public Health