SF tobacco ban approved by judge

September 30, 2008 7:31:56 PM PDT
San Francisco won an important court battle against Walgreens. The drug store is challenging the city's new law that bans pharmacies from selling cigarettes, but a Superior Court judge turned down Walgreen's emergency request to delay that law. That means the ban begins on Wednesday.

Starting Wednesday you may have to go to a corner store to buy cigarettes in San Francisco. In July, city lawmakers decided tobacco products don't belong in pharmacies like Walgreens, where the primary focus is health care.

On Monday, Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled that is a rational basis for the ban. Seven Rite Aids, a handful of independent pharmacies, and at least 52 Walgreens are affected.

"They do send an implicit message that smoking is acceptable because the public views those stores as health promoting businesses," said San Francisco Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria.

The ban exempts groceries and big-box stores like Safeway or Costco that have pharmacies. The city says there's a distinction because health-care products aren't the main selling point there. Walgreens calls that anti-competitive and says it will lose millions of dollars.

"Bottom line is the city should not be in the business of favoring some stores over others," said Daniel Kolkey, a Walgreens company attorney.

Kolkey says Walgreens will appeal. The stores customers, smokers, and non-smokers told us the ban goes too far.

"There's a lot of other unhealthy things in there besides cigarettes, so where do you draw the line?" said Dana Railsback, a non-smoker.

The new law is the first of its kind in the country. ABC7 Legal Analyst Dean Johnson says it's on the national radar.

"I think we might very well see an expansion or growth of ordinances limiting cigarette sales on a broader base," said Johnson.

Cigarette maker Phillip Morris is also suing the city, claiming the ban on its products in Walgreens and other pharmacies violates its freedom of speech. That case is set to be heard October 30th.


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