business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal reports that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted 8-3 to approve a measure crafted by Mayor Gavin Newsom to bar pharmacies, chain drug stores and any retailer that has either a pharmacy or an in-store health clinic from selling cigarettes or other tobacco products.

The argument is that stores positioning themselves as carrying health care solutions ought not be in the business of selling products proven to be both addictive and deadly.

According to the story, “Supporters of the sales bans say they are trying to reduce tobacco-related illnesses by limiting access to cigarettes, which have established health hazards. By ratcheting up the social unacceptability of cigarettes, supporters believe they can deter young people from starting tobacco habits.

“Opponents portray the efforts as selective legislation that will have little impact on smoking rates, while making retailers choose between selling what customers want and offering affordable health care.”

"The only discussion (before the vote) was why the proposal wasn't broader [to] include a ban at supermarkets and (bulk-sale) warehouses, too," said Mitch Katz, director of San Francisco's Public Health Department.

San Francisco law requires that the Board of Supervisors approve it one more time before it becomes law; if that vote takes place, as expected, the bill will become law on October 1.

Similar measures have not been successful in places like Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Illinois and New York, according to the Journal, though the sense seems to be that passage of a ban in San Francisco could give new traction to efforts elsewhere in the country.

The move also comes as selected retailers such as Wegmans decided to stop selling cigarettes because they felt it was at odds with their broader brand message about health and wellness.

KC's View:
As noted in this space in the past, I have no objectivity when it comes to tobacco-related stories. I agree with the city of San Francisco that there is a serious disconnect between the selling of health and wellness products and the peddling of tobacco … though I tend to think it ought to be up to retailers to make that determination.

That said, anything that can make it harder for people – especially kids - to buy cigarettes works for me.