Tobacco ban poised to expand

The City moved closer Monday to banning the sale of tobacco products in all businesses with a pharmacy, including drugstores and supermarkets.

In 2008, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the sale of tobacco products in drugstores such as Walgreens, but exempted grocery stores or stores such as Safeway and Costco.

But Walgreens sued The City and the California Court of Appeals ruled in June that the law, in applying just to drugstores, violates equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. 

The City has now turned to a “legislative fix” in the legal battle. Supervisor Eric Mar has proposed legislation that would impose the ban on all businesses with a pharmacy.

The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee approved the legislation in a 3-0 vote Monday. The full board is expected to vote on the bill next week.

There are 118 businesses in San Francisco with pharmacies and 14 that are considered grocery or big-box stores, according to Public Health Director Mitch Katz.

“The policy is strengthening our anti-smoking efforts in San Francisco,” Mar said. “It’s good for the public’s health.”

Katz praised the policy and said it didn’t have an adverse effect on business, as opponents had said it would.

“There were concerns this would affect businesses at the time. And in 2008, there were 64 commercial pharmacies in San Francisco and now there are 65,” Katz said. “So not only did it not result in any pharmacies closing, we got one extra commercial pharmacy. The number of independent pharmacies in San Francisco has stayed stable, 39 in 2008 and 29 in 2010.”

But Nick Shoman, an owner of Charlie’s Pharmacy in the Fillmore district, said he would have to cease selling prescription drugs if the law applies to his business.

“I would have to close — $6,000 a month rent, insurance. We’ve crunched the numbers,” said Shoman, who asked the committee to postpone voting on the law. Cigarette sales are about 8 percent of his revenue, Shoman said.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, the committee chair, said she’s concerned that such a large portion of Shoman’s business is comprised of cigarette sales.

“Most independent pharmacies are no longer selling tobacco,” she said. “Maybe you need to go back and rethink your business plan.”

The legislation would require approval by the full board to take effect.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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