Tom Briant, executive director and legal counsel for the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), told CSD that New York City’s proposal “infringes on a retailer’s free-speech rights.”
The aim, according to Bloomberg, is to “prevent another generation from the ill-health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” the New York Daily News reported.
The proposed law is called the “Tobacco Product Display Restriction Bill,” which is to be introduced in the City Council, and is aimed at preventing kids from smoking. It would ban city stores from publicly displaying cigarettes or any other tobacco products. Instead, stores would need to keep packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products under counters, behind curtains, or in cabinets away from public view.
In April 2012, the Village of Haverstraw, N.Y., adopted a similar and first-of-its-kind ordinance in the U.S. that required retailers to keep tobacco out of public view. But groups like the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) and tobacco companies fought back, the proposal was withdrawn.
At the time, Thomas Briant, the executive director and legal counsel for NATO sat down with CSD to discuss the impact on retailers if the ban went into effect. “Several provinces in Canada have similar display ban prohibitions, and the experience by Canadian retailers includes paying up to $2,500 for specially-designed display covers that lift up and then close to hide tobacco products on store shelves, or similar remodeling costs to retrofit checkout areas with pull-out, under-the-counter storage drawers,” he said.
He noted that if such a law went into effect, “retailers would find that the cost of fabricating and installing display shelf covers or under-counter drawers would be several thousands of dollars per store. The option of stocking all tobacco products in a back room raises crucial safety issues since store personnel would need to leave the checkout counter to enter a storage room, resulting in the employees not being near alarm activation switches. While in the back room, the cash register would also be left unattended, creating a breach of a store’s security protocols.”
“The proposal to require that all tobacco products be inventoried out of the public’s view violates a retailer’s rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Briant told CSD this morning. “The ban infringes on a retailer’s free-speech rights by prohibiting the display of legal tobacco products in a store, which, in turn, undermines the ability of retailers to communicate with adult customers about the products through product packaging.”
A Manhattan state Supreme Court justice struck down Bloomberg’s big-soda ban last week, calling the rule “arbitrary and capricious” and declaring that the city Board of health lacked the power to issue it.
This is a developing story. Check back for ongoing updates on the tobacco ban proposal.