San Francisco Passes Landmark “Tobacco Sales Reduction Act”

Disparities, E-Cigarettes, Licensing, Policy Advocacy, Retailer Density, Stores Near Schools, Youth
Photo Credit: Mike Koozmin, San Francisco Examiner

The City of San Francisco, California recently passed a piece of legislation called the Tobacco Sales Reduction Act, which aims to halve the number of tobacco retailers in the city over the next 10-15 years.

The act creates a cap of 45 tobacco sales permits in each of the 11 city districts. As it currently stands, San Francisco has nearly 1,000 tobacco permit-holders, but given that many of the tobacco retailers are clustered in low-income areas, the cap will result in a large decrease in retailer density in some districts. While existing permits will not be eliminated, the city hopes to reach its reduction goal through attrition. When a store with a permit closes, a new permit will not be re-issued. In San Francisco, a tobacco permit is required to sell e-cigarettes as well.

If a district eventually reaches a count of less than 45 tobacco retailers, any new stores selling tobacco must be located a minimum of 500 feet away from both schools and other tobacco retailers.  Additionally, the city will not issue any new permits for tobacco shops that obtain 70% of gross sales from tobacco or 50% of sales transaction from tobacco products or paraphernalia.

This legislation has been in development since 2008, championed by San Francisco youth involved with the nonprofit Youth Leadership Institute and their Tobacco Use Reduction Force.

Learn more about this policy and the groundwork that made it possible in this case study.

Why does this matter?

Tobacco companies have been disproportionately targeting minority low-income communities for decades through disparities in point of sale advertising and retailer density. By setting an equal cap on permits in each district across the city, San Francisco is taking a step towards righting this inequity.

Licensing laws such as this one requiring permits to sell tobacco are one of the most lasting strategies to control the density of tobacco retailers. Reducing the retail availability of tobacco through measures like this decreases exposure to point of sale advertising, marketing, and promotions by the tobacco industry.

Read more about why retailer density matters, and other potential licensing and zoning policy solutions. is a project of Counter Tools. Counter Tools (logo)
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