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SF mayor to drug stores: ‘The butt stops here’


SAN FRANCISCO —While many smokers regard the drug store as a destination for cigarette purchases, residents of one of California’s largest cities might soon need to look elsewhere to feed their nic-fix.

Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed an amendment to the city’s health code in April that would ban tobacco sales at pharmacies and drug stores, but not grocery or big-box stores with pharmacies.

Similar bans are under consideration in New Hampshire, Illinois, Tennessee and New York

Of course, drug store chains strongly oppose San Francisco’s proposed ban.

“We question the fairness of prohibiting a drug store with a pharmacy from selling tobacco products, while a grocery store or a big-box store with a pharmacy would not be prohibited from selling tobacco products,” said Cheryl Slavinsky, director of public relations for Rite Aid Stores.

Supporters of the ban, however, distinguish drug stores from other retailers because of their role as part of the healthcare industry. The San Francisco proposal states that by selling tobacco products, pharmacies “convey tacit approval” of tobacco use and send mixed messages to consumers.

Prescription for Change, a project of the California Medical Association Foundation to persuade pharmacies to stop selling tobacco, doesn’t mince words: “In this singular act of hypocrisy, pharmacies are legitimizing tobacco use to our kids.”

According to its Web site, more than 900 pharmacies in California no longer sell tobacco, though it did not specify whether they had stopped because of outside pressure, and representatives from the group could not be reached for comment.

Two East Coast supermarket chains, Wegmans Food Markets and DeCicco Family Markets, also have stopped selling tobacco. Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale said the chain’s decision, along with encouraging employees to quit smoking was out of concern for health rather than public pressure.

West Coast drug store chain Longs Drug sells cigarettes, but it also emphasizes smoking cessation.

“One might conclude that a drug store might, in fact, be a better environment for someone to look for tobacco products because of the focus on cessation products,” Longs spokesman Mark Holz said.

According to Nielsen, tobacco and accessories sales at drug stores were almost $2.66 billion in 2007.

Newsom’s proposal went to a board of supervisors committee June 5. As of press time, the committee had yet to schedule it for a vote.

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