Pharmacy Retailers Respond to Tobacco Ban-August 2008


The San Francisco law banning the sale of tobacco products has pharmacies raising the question of fairness.

San Francisco may have the distinction of being the first city in the nation to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies beginning October 1, 2008, but it has made its legislators unpopular with the pharmacies affected.

The city’s board of supervisors voted 8 to 3 on July 29. The measure, which was proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, amends San Francisco’s health code to prohibit tobacco sales in any pharmacy. Drugstores caught selling tobacco products in the city could face up to a $1000 fine. The ban was supported by antismoking advocates who believe that pharmacies and retailers with in-store health clinics that promote health care should not also be selling cigarettes.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) sent a letter to the city opposing the ban. “It is not credible that prohibiting the sale of tobacco products in traditional drugstores would reduce smoking. Such a ban would only succeed in making an arbitrary determination as to which retailers would be permitted to sell products that remain legitimate for sale in the state and in the nation,” the letter stated.

NACDS, which has 25 members operating >3500 pharmacies in California, argued, “Pharmacists are trained and knowledgeable on the available resources to stop smoking, and often counsel patients on smoking cessation products. It would be better for an individual who smokes to not be dissuaded from entering stores in which smoking cessation resources are available.”

Rite Aid and Walgreens, which would be affected by the ban, said the law lacks basic fairness.

“We feel the same about the issue as we have since the ordinance was proposed. We believe this is about customer choice and the right of our customers to find products they want in our stores,” said Cheryl Slavinsky, Rite Aid director of public relations. “We also question the fairness of prohibiting a drugstore with a pharmacy from selling tobacco products when a grocery or mass store with a pharmacy would not be prohibited. As a neighborhood retailer, we offer all types of items and that does include smoking cessation products and we make it clear that our pharmacists can counsel patients on stopping smoking.”

Walgreens agrees. “First and foremost, the ordinance lacks basic fairness. It penalizes a few trusted retailers while unfairly benefiting others. It also won’t reduce the sale of tobacco products by one package,” said Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin. “The ordinance will discourage smokers from coming to our stores—where they can be helped by pharmacists trained to counsel smokers on smoking cessation products—and instead sends them to retailers such as tobacco shops that actively promote the sale of tobacco.”

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