First soda, now cigarettes: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed legislation that would require tobacco products and cigarettes to be stored where they cannot be seen by customers.
If passed, the bill would be the first in the country. Similar display prohibitions have been enacted in other countries, like Canada and England. Tobacco products would have to be hidden – behind a curtain, under the counter, or in cabinets, for example – if the Tobacco Products Display Restriction law passed. The measure includes an exemption for stores devoted primarily to the sale of tobacco products.
Under the legislation, tobacco products would remain out of sight except during a purchase by an adult consumer or during restocking. Stores would be allowed to advertise and communicate tobacco product and price information, however, the Mayor said.
Bloomberg said the bill is intended to reduce youth smoking rates. “Such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity,” he said at a press conference about the bill. “And they invite young people to experiment with tobacco.”
Criticism of the proposed law was fast and furious. A spokesperson for Philip Morris said the proposed law “goes too far.” A similar measure was introduced in upstate New York last year but was immediately challenged by the tobacco companies as a violation of their First Amendment rights and was quickly withdrawn.
Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, a group that represents an estimated 1,600 stores, told CNN that the bill “arises from a wild theory that the mere sight of packs of cigarettes on a wall behind the store counter compels kids to start smoking.” “The notion of forcing licensed, tax-collecting, law-abiding retailers to hide their tobacco inventory is patently absurd,” he added.
Speaking with NBC news, Tom Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, predicted that if the law passed, it would be ruled unconstitutional in a legal challenge. “Retailers are responsible businesspeople that go to great lengths to prevent sales to minors, and there are First Amendment protections that extend to advertising,” he said.
Why it matters: The legislation was announced just days after Bloomberg’s prior health initiative – a ban on “giant soda” – was struck down by a trial court judge, a decision the Mayor vowed to appeal. With just months left in his final term, Bloomberg will now face off against both the soda and the tobacco industries, which are well-known for fighting any and all advertising limitations and restrictions.