Right Coast, Too

Boston considers pharmacy-tobacco sales ban, including campus stores

SAN FRANCISCO -- While lawsuits filed by Walgreen Co. and Philip Morris USA against the city of San Francisco regarding the banning of tobacco-product sales in pharmacies play out on the West Coast, Big Tobacco seems headed for another challenge on the East Coast. There, a proposal would likewise halt the sale of tobacco products from pharmacies, but it would tack on a similar prohibition against any retailer operating on the campus of a college or university inside the city.

In a Sept. 4 story in The Boston Globe, Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, [image-nocss] spelled out the rationale behind the proposal.

“Why, in a place where people go to get healthy and get information about staying healthy, would you sell something that has absolutely no redeeming value and ends up killing a lot of people?” she said, according to the newspaper.

At least one c-store company, Boston-based 660 Corp., operates stores on college campuses in the city. In the same Globe story, Chris Christensen, director of operations, said that regardless of his opinion on the subject, any “headwinds” given it likely would lead to its passage.

“Clearly, this is not going to be good for us,” said Christensen.

Alex Rodriguez discovered the power of cigarette sales earlier this year when the San Francisco c-store he manages, Spee-Dee Gas & Food, temporarily lost its license for selling to a minor. Customers who came in for cigarettes and picked up beverages, candy or other items tended to leave empty-handed when they learned that tobacco was off the shelf for the time being.

Would a permanent loss of cigarettes hurt? “Real bad,” said Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, San Francisco 's ban appears to have drawn some of its shape from long-standing tobacco-related ordinances in Canada. Most provinces there ban pharmacies and hospitals from selling tobacco products, and nearly all provinces likewise ban most in-store display advertising.

“We pretty much have all gone dark,” said Steve Tennant, a spokesman for the Canadian Convenience Stores Assoc. While the advertising curb has somewhat lowered sales, Tennant said the bigger knock to the country 's 33,000 c-stores has come from a loss of incentive payments to them by tobacco manufacturers.

“There are no allowances or incentives,” he said.

It 's hard to say whether the advertising embargo has had a material impact on tobacco sales there. Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada estimated that in 2005 about 20% of the population over age 15 smoked. Citing U.S. government data collected in 2006, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimated that 21% of Americans smoked.

Bill Corr, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based anti-smoking group, predicted that there will be more San Franciscos and Bostons and efforts to curb tobacco sales.

“This is the direction that society is going in,” Corr was quoted in the Globe 's Sept. 4 story. “I think other cities across the state will be following Boston 's example.”

Click here to read part one of this two-part series.