In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law a major stimulus plan known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This federal law that was designed to stimulate the U.S. economy also included included $220 million dollars in federal taxpayer money to be disbursed to states, counties and cities by the Centers for Disease Control to fund local tobacco initiatives.
These initiatives are to (1) restrict tobacco advertising and promotion, (2) prohibit the sale of certain cigar package sizes, (3) ban the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, (4) ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, and (5) place more restrictions on smoking in public.
The funds were first disbursed in 2010 and continued into 2011 with the federal grants extending into 2012. As a result, there has been and will continue to be a major emphasis by state and local governments to adopt these kinds of restrictions on tobacco products.
NATO is tracking the disbursement of these federal funds and will respond to as many of these local tobacco issues as possible in 2012.
Certain cities on the East and West coasts have already been considering some of the most restrictive tobacco laws in the country.
Ads and Signs
In April of 2011, the Worcester, Massachusetts city council adopted an ordinance banning all outdoor tobacco advertisements and any in-store advertisements that can be seen from a school, a park, or a street. Although NATO informed city officials that the advertisement ban was unconstitutional, the city council proceeded to adopt the ordinance. In response, NATO along with several manufacturers have sued the City of Worcester to seek a court ruling that the Worcester ordinance is in violation of the First Amendment that protects free speech including the right to advertise. A hearing has been held on the case and a court decision should be issued soon.
In Philadelphia, the city’s board of health proposed requiring a graphic health warning poster to be displayed next to each register. The Philadelphia Board of Health received $10 million in stimulus grants to be used, in part, to support passage of this ordinance.
NATO submitted a brief outlining the constitutional arguments against the mandate and the NATO president testified against the ordinance during a Board of Health hearing. In January, the Philadelphia health board announced that the further consideration of the ordinance will not occur until later this year.
In Boston, the city’s public health commission adopted an ordinance banning the sale of cigars in packages of less than four and single cigars if they are priced less than $2.00 per cigar at wholesale or $2.50 per cigar at retail. This Boston ordinance has now gone into effect.
In November, the New Bedford, Massachusetts Board of Health adopted an ordinance almost identical to the Boston cigar package sales ban. However, after NATO worked with local city council members and helped organize retailers to oppose the New Bedford restrictions, the Board of Health repealed the cigar provisions.
Displays Out of Sight
The Marin County Board has proposed a very restrictive ordinance that would require retailers to place tobacco products out of sight in non-public areas of the store such as in a storeroom. The county attorney has since advised the county board that the complete ban on displays violates First Amendment advertising rights and the display restriction section is to be removed from the ordinance.
On January 5, 2012, without giving the public the required 48 hours prior notice of a vote on an ordinance under Rhode Island law, the Providence, Rhode Island city council passed two ordinances with one banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products except those with the taste or aroma of tobacco, menthol, mint or wintergreen and the other prohibiting the redemption of tobacco product coupons while also outlawing special product pricing promotions such as buy-one, get-one free.