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Leading Health Groups Urge Federal Court to Uphold New York City’s Law Prohibiting Tobacco Discounts

March 04, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Late yesterday, 12 national, state and local public health and medical organizations filed a friend of the court (amicus) brief urging a federal court to uphold New York City’s new ordinance that prohibits the redemption of coupons and other discounts for tobacco products and allow its implementation on March 19.

Signed on November 19, 2013, the ordinance is designed to prevent tobacco companies from undermining the city’s efforts, through high tobacco taxes and other strategies, to keep the price of tobacco products high in order to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, particularly among young people. The brief points out that numerous scientific studies and public health authorities have concluded that increasing the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, especially among kids.

The tobacco companies, including Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance and are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the elimination of discounts from taking effect on March 19.

“Tobacco companies have sought to counter the effects of governmental policies that raise the price of cigarettes by concentrating their marketing efforts on targeted price reduction strategies. These policies include price discounts to retailers and wholesalers to reduce retail prices of cigarettes; discount programs such as “two packs-for-the-price-of one”; discount coupons sent by direct mail to targeted populations; and giveaways of other products with the sale of cigarettes. The tobacco companies have deliberately targeted their discount programs to frustrate the effects of state and local tax and pricing policies,” the brief argues.

“Exactly because tobacco product price increases effectively combat adolescent smoking, sales strategies that counter the effect of these price increases disproportionately increase smoking by adolescents.”

In their lawsuit, the tobacco companies argued that New York City’s ordinance violates their First Amendment rights and is preempted by federal law. However, such arguments have been rejected by a federal district court and a federal appellate court that both upheld a similar ordinance adopted by the City of Providence, Rhode Island.

As the brief points out, tobacco use is the nation’s number one cause of preventable death, killing 480,000 people and costing the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses each year. In a recent report, the U.S. Surgeon General found that 5.6 million kids alive today will suffer premature death from a smoking-related illness without strong action to reduce tobacco use.

The brief was filed on behalf of the following groups:

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
American Heart Association
American Legacy Foundation
American Lung Association
American Lung Association in New York
Bronx Health REACH
Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City
NYC Coalition for a Smoke-Free City
NYS American Academy of Pediatrics, District II
Public Health Association of New York City
Tobacco Control Legal Consortium