Cigarettes removed from San Francisco pharmacies

Legal News Line Oct. 1, 2008, 1:17pm

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-California's war on tobacco withstood a legal challenge, which will clear the way for cigarettes to be removed from all San Francisco pharmacies today.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Bucsh upheld the ground-breaking tobacco ban passed by the Board of Supervisors in July when he rejected an attempt by Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. to obtain an injunction against the order, which takes effect on Wednesday.

Walgreens attorneys vowed to appeal, according to published reports.

"This is part of the government's long-term and multi-prong battle to undercut the message, particularly to teenagers, that smoking is acceptable," Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria said after he argued in support of the ban in court.

Earlier this month, California Attorney General Jerry Brown ramped up his own attack on cigarette use when he targeted banking institutions that process Internet tobacco sales.

Brown reached a settlement with First Regional Bank that effectively blocks illegal tobacco sales to minors, a move he called a "major step to public health."

Tobacco giant Philip Morris has filed its own suit in U.S. District Court also trying to defeat San Francisco's ban. Members of the Board of Supervisors have stridently supported the move, saying pharmacies should be a place where people come to get healthy, not sick from cancer-causing products.

Lawyers for Philip Morris 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 them being sued by Philip Morris "a badge of honor for anyone in public health."

In legal briefs Walgreens filed earlier in Sept., the company claimed it stood to lose millions of dollars if the ban takes effect. The company has stores, many a block or two a part, throughout the city.

Chhabia said the ban will likely become a model for similar legislation in other localities across the country, particularly if it continues to hold up in court. Walgreens attorneys, meanwhile, say they are confident the ban will eventually be overturned.

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