Federal Court Upholds Providence,… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Federal Court Upholds Providence, RI, Measures to Reduce Tobacco Sales to Kids

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 11, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — In a win for kids and public health, a federal judge has upheld sensible restrictions adopted by the city of Providence, Rhode Island, that prohibit tobacco companies from luring kids with cheap and sweet tobacco products.

In a decision handed down Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Mary Lisi of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island upheld Providence ordinances that:

  • Prohibit the sale of flavored non-cigarette tobacco products except in certain adult facilities (flavored cigarettes are banned by federal law); and
  • Prohibit the use of coupons and multi-pack discounts (e.g., 'buy-two-get-one-free') that make tobacco products cheaper and more appealing to kids.

Providence earlier this year became one of the first cities in the country to adopt such measures.

Judge Lisi found that Providence's restrictions are reasonable regulations of the sales — not the marketing — of tobacco products and serve the city's legitimate goal of reducing smoking and other tobacco use, especially among kids. She rejected arguments by tobacco companies, including Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, that the ordinances violated their First Amendment rights and are also preempted by federal and state law.

'Neither of the Ordinances at issue precludes the Plaintiffs from engaging in activities that can be considered 'commercial speech',' Judge Lisi wrote.

We applaud Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and the City Council for taking bold action to stop tobacco companies from preying on kids and for standing strong against the industry's legal attacks. We look forward to standing with Providence against likely industry appeals.

The Providence ordinances crack down on two tactics — sweet flavors and prices discounts — used by tobacco companies to lure kids. Tobacco companies have long used candy and fruit flavorings to tempt kids and mask the harshness of tobacco products for new users. The 2009 federal law granting the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, but the FDA has not extended this restriction to other tobacco products. Tobacco companies have responded by introducing a barrage of new flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco products. The Providence ordinance prohibits the sale of all other flavored tobacco products, including cigars, little cigars and smokeless tobacco, except in certain adult facilities.

Tobacco companies also know that kids are the most price-sensitive consumers and that reducing the price of cigarettes and other tobacco products makes them more affordable and appealing to kids. That is one reason why they spend billions of dollars each year on price discounts. By prohibiting the use of coupons and multi-pack discounts, Providence will increase the price of tobacco products and reduce youth tobacco use.

Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people and costing nearly $100 billion in health care bills each year. We applaud the city of Providence for taking innovative action to keep these deadly products out of the hands of kids and reduce tobacco’s terrible toll.

Download the court ruling