Philip Morris USA filed suit today in federal court to overturn a controversial San Francisco ordinance that would ban the sale of tobacco products in convenience drug stores. The lawsuit asks the court in the Northern District of California to delay enforcement of the ordinance and ultimately declare it unconstitutional.
The ban, passed by a divided Board of Supervisors, already is the subject of a separate lawsuit pending in state court challenging its propriety.
“Although called a ban on sales, the purpose and effect of the ordinance is to suppress communications directed to adult smokers, in violation of our constitutional rights,” said Joe Murillo, Altria Client Services vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA. “Likewise, the ban unfairly deprives adult consumers of the opportunity to buy tobacco products from legitimate licensed retail businesses.”
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.
Philip Morris supports reasonable legislation to ensure that tobacco products are sold responsibly to adult consumers in face-to-face transactions with retail clerks. It supports strict licensing laws for tobacco sales and strict enforcement of such laws, and enforces its own policies on responsible merchandising of the tobacco category. However, the San Francisco ban is unjust to manufacturers, retailers and adult consumers because it bars–without legitimate reason–certain retailers from offering legal tobacco products to adult consumers who wish to buy them.
“We are asking for an expedited review of our Complaint and look forward to presenting our arguments on this issue,” said Murillo.