Federal Court Is Wrong on the Law in… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Federal Court Is Wrong on the Law in Striking Down New York City's Requirement for Tobacco Health Warning Signs in Stores

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
December 29, 2010

Washington, D.C. - We believe that a federal judge was wrong on the law in striking down New York City's requirement that all businesses selling tobacco products post tobacco health warning signs. New York City acted lawfully to more effectively inform consumers about the health risks of tobacco use, and we urge the City to appeal.

The judge ruled today that New York City's requirement is preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, which restricts the authority of states to regulate tobacco advertising and promotion. However, this ruling fails to recognize that New York City established the signage requirement as part of its regulation of the sale — not the advertising or promotion — of tobacco products, which is permitted by federal law. The new federal law enacted in June 2009 that grants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products explicitly protects the rights of states and localities to regulate the terms and conditions of tobacco sales. Contrary to today's ruling, New York City's regulation does not restrict the advertising or promotion of tobacco products. It is also important to note that the new tobacco regulation law for the first time grants state and local governments the authority to regulate the time, place and manner, but not content, of tobacco advertising.

We believe that New York City acted appropriately and within its legal authority to regulate the sale of tobacco products in requiring tobacco sellers to post the warning signs. The court was in error when it failed to address the authority of state and local governments to regulate the sale of tobacco products that was explicitly protected in the new tobacco regulation law.

The nation's three largest tobacco companies and New York City tobacco retailers put their profits ahead of health and lives in suing to block the City's signage requirement. These warning signs tell consumers the truth about the harm caused by tobacco products. By challenging New York City's rule, the tobacco manufacturers and retailers have shown once again that they are unwilling to accept any responsibility for the consequences of selling deadly and addictive tobacco products.

New York City's signage requirement is an appropriate component of the city's highly effective efforts to reduce tobacco use, which have included a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law, high tobacco taxes, hard-hitting media campaigns and help for smokers trying to quit. Research has shown that health warnings communicating the adverse health effects of tobacco use are effective at increasing knowledge of health risks, motivating smokers to quit and discouraging non-smokers from starting. Research has also shown that pictorial warnings are more effective and engaging than text-only warnings.