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PHAI Publishes Case Study on Challenges to Pharmacy Tobacco Sales Ban in San Francisco County

March 29th, 2010

PHAI documented the ban on tobacco product sales in pharmacies located in the County of San Francisco in August 2008.  Even when faced with the likelihood of litigation, San Francisco lawmakers moved forward with the ban.  In September 2008, a large pharmacy chain filed a lawsuit claiming that ban violated its equal rights.  The ban excluded grocery stores and big box stores that housed pharmacies.  Later in September 2008, a tobacco manufacturer filed a second lawsuit claiming that the ban violated commercial free speech rights.

The decision to pass the ban despite the threat of litigation was undergirded by some key points.  First, the harm caused by tobacco justified the ban.  Second, proponents believed establishing new, effective tobacco control laws inevitably meant having to face the tobacco industry in court, given the industry’s aggressive use of litigation.  Third, proponents felt that litigation would confirm the legality of pharmacy bans, and thus, establish legal precedent for other jurisdictions to follow.  Third, an effort to thwart passage of the ban would generate public interest and awareness of the health effects of tobacco use.  Fourth, several years of capacity building established a range of stakeholders who understood and supported the ban.  Fifth, the ban represented a first step in a larger effort to reduce tobacco sales in San Francisco through a reduction of retail outlets.  The pharmacy ban would be good, and somewhat safe first step towards that goal.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Practice & Policy Solutions, PHAI used case study research methodology to investigate threats of litigation made during the proposal and passage of public health laws. The case studies examine this experience across a range of public health issues. Public health officials, attorneys and advocates provide insight into their decision-making and planning process in anticipation of and in response to legal challenges.

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