SAN FRANCISCO — The nation's largest tobacco company is suing the city of San Francisco over a law that would ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products at stand-alone pharmacies in the city.
Philip Morris USA filed suit in federal court on Sept. 24, claiming that the new law violates its free-expression right to sell its products.
In a Sept. 25 statement, the company said: “The U.S. Supreme Court has established that tobacco manufacturers have a protected First Amendment right to communicate to adult consumers about their lawful products and that adult consumers have an interest in receiving that information.”
In June 2001, the Supreme Court said in Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly: “The state's interest in preventing underage tobacco use is substantial, and even compelling, but it is no less true that the sale and use of tobacco products by adults is a legal activity."
Mitch Katz, director of the city's Department of Public Health, told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Do you remember any part of the Bill of Rights being about pharmacies selling tobacco? Philip Morris has fought every attempt by public health officials to save lives by curbing smoking ... . It's a badge of honor for anyone in public health to be sued by Philip Morris."
The newspaper reported that City Supervisor Tom Ammiano, a supporter of the cigarette ban, said of Philip Morris: "If they want to sell butts, they can kiss mine."
San Francisco passed the ban in July, saying people getting their prescriptions filled shouldn't be offered the opportunity to buy tobacco products.
The new law is scheduled to go in effect on Oct. 1.
The suit by Philip Morris comes after Walgreens also filed suit in Superior Court earlier this month seeking an emergency injunction to block the ban.
The Chronicle reported that Walgreens is challenging the ban as discriminatory because it applies to stand-alone pharmacies "but not to grocery stores or big-box stores that have pharmacies within them and also sell cigarettes."
Both sides in that case are due in court Sept. 30.