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Supes Vote to Expand Tobacco Sales Ban

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If confirmed, law would nix cigarettes at Safeway and Costco stores in San Francisco

San Francisco supervisors Tuesday voted to expand the city's ban on tobacco sales by stores with pharmacies to include larger grocery and big-box stores.

The 7-3 initial vote, if confirmed by the board next week, is likely to be signed into law by Mayor Gavin Newsom, his office has said, and would go into effect 30 days later.

The original ordinance, passed by the board in 2008, made San Francisco the first city in the country to ban cigarette sales at stores with pharmacies, such as Walgreens. It affects 65 commercial establishments in the city.

City legislators and health officials had argued that pharmacies specifically market themselves as health-promoting businesses, and tobacco products should not be sold in the same locations. But an exception was made for grocery stores such as Safeway and Lucky supermarkets, and for big-box stores such as Costco.

Walgreen Co. later sued the city, arguing the exemption was unfair, and though a superior court judge dismissed the suit, an appeals court earlier this year reinstated it.

Supervisor Eric Mar, the sponsor of the new legislation, said Tuesday that removing the exemption would "level the playing field."

"Cigarettes and pharmacies don't mix," Mar said, adding that cigarettes cause 440,000 preventable deaths each year.

"My father could have lived 10 years longer if he hadn't smoked," Mar said.

Susan Houghton, director of public and government affairs for Safeway, said before Tuesday's meeting that she expected the new legislation would pass but was disappointed.

"I think it was just done too quickly," Houghton said.

She said Safeway would have been willing to work with San Francisco on anti-smoking educational campaigns rather than an outright ban.

The ban would impact nine Safeway stores in San Francisco, though Houghton would not disclose the expected financial losses the stores would suffer. She said the issue was about "freedom of choice" for consumers.

Customers will now simply go to other stores to buy cigarettes, she acknowledged.

"We believe in the intent of it, to get people to stop smoking, we just think it could be done in another way," Houghton said.

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