Philip Morris sues San Francisco over tobacco ban

Legal News Line Sep. 25, 2008, 11:35am

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-No stranger to the courtroom, tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, took the unusual role of plaintiff on Wednesday when it sued the city of San Francisco for its recent ban on the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.

The lawsuit filed in federal court argues the ban is unconstitutional. It is the second such suit filed against the city following the Board of Supervisors vote to approve the ban. At that time, the supervisors said pharmacies should be a place where people come to get healthy, not sick from cancer-causing products.

Walgreens, known by residents for a ubiquitous block-by-block presence throughout the city that rivals that of Starbucks, first sued the city.

In legal briefs it filed earlier this week, the company claimed it stood to lose millions of dollars if the ban takes effect.

The ban is set to take effect on Oct. 1. Philip Morris USA asked the court for temporary restraining order against the ban until its case could be heard in court.

Lawyers for Virginia-based Philip Morris, whose parent company is Altria Group, Inc., argued that the ban on tobacco sales seeks to limit "communications directed to adult smokers, in violation of our constitutional rights," according to published reports.

Mitch Katz, director of San Francisco's Department of Public Health, called the being sued by Philip Morris "a badge of honor for anyone in public health."

Supervisors were similarly unbowed. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a strident backer of the ban, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "If they want to sell butts, they can kiss mine."

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