With an overflow of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, the NATO Annual Awards Dinner celebrating the association’s ninth anniversary was a great success. Held at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel on March 2nd, the annual dinner event featured a cocktail reception with guests enjoying the opportunity to smoke cigarettes and fine cigars followed by a first class dinner.
Many of the guests at this ninth anniversary celebration were also present at the original meeting some nine years ago at the Las Vegas Rio Hotel when NATO was formed. Now, some nine years later, NATO has earned a sterling reputation as being one of the premiere national retail tobacco trade associations in the country.
In keeping with tradition at the NATO Annual Awards Dinner, the NATO Pinnacle Awards were presented to those NATO retail and manufacturer members who over the past year demonstrated extraordinary support of, and made a significant effort in, protecting the rights of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers.
In late 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was sued by Commonwealth Brands, Conwood Company, NATO retail member Discount Tobacco City and Lottery, Lorillard Tobacco Company, National Tobacco Company, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to overturn the FDA’s new ban on color advertising of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.
On Jan. 5, 2010, a federal district court judge issued a key decision and overturned the FDA tobacco regulation, which bans color advertising of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in retail stores and in magazines. In the decision, the federal judge ruled that the regulation requiring all cigarette and smokeless tobacco advertisements be in black text on a white background violated the longstanding constitutional free speech protections afforded to commercial advertisements.
For their perseverance and willingness to take a stand against the FDA’s unconstitutional infringement on the right to advertise legal tobacco products, these six NATO members were awarded the 2010 NATO Pinnacle Award.
Recent developments regarding New York City’s ban on flavored tobacco products and actions by the Utah and New York state legislatures on proposed flavored tobacco bans demonstrate the uncertain legality of these kinds of restrictions. You may recall that U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Manufacturing and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands sued the city of New York to overturn its flavored tobacco ban ordinance. Then, just prior to the New York City flavored ban law going into effect on Feb. 25, 2010, the New York City Law Department sent a memo to the federal judge presiding over the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco lawsuit that the city is compiling rules to implement the flavored tobacco ban and the ordinance will not be enforced until sometime in April.
Moreover, the Utah legislature took action to remove from a pending bill a ban on all flavored smokeless tobacco products. In addition, after NATO warned New York state legislatures twice through letters that any action on the state bill to ban flavored tobacco products should be deferred until the federal lawsuit against New York City’s ban was resolved, the New York Assembly Committee on Health barely approved a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products on a 12-10 vote. The committee then sent the bill to two other committees for further consideration rather than sending the bill directly to the floor of the New York Assembly.
These attempts to ban the sale of legal flavored tobacco products appears to be a new focus of anti-tobacco advocates which includes lawmakers that prefer to usher in a new era of prohibition. NATO will continue to monitor and respond to these attempts to take away the right to sell legal tobacco products.