Thursday, March 21, 2013

Proposed New York City Law Bans Display of Cigarettes But Not Cigarette Ads or Promotions

According to a version of the proposed ordinance provided by the Wall Street Journal, Mayor Bloomberg's proposal that I discussed yesterday would ban the display of cigarettes or tobacco products in retail stores, but not advertisements or promotions for these products.

The proposed ordinance states: "A retail dealer shall not display or permit the display of any cigarettes or cigarette packaging in a manner that allows a person to view such cigarettes or cigarette packaging prior to purchase at any place of business operated by such dealer."

The same clause is then repeated with respect to tobacco products.

The Rest of the Story

If this version of the proposed legislation is correct and complete, then it does not take any action to regulate the advertising or promotion of cigarettes or tobacco products. Instead, it merely regulates the display of these products, mandating that they be kept out of public view.

But this means that a store could have a huge promotional ad or display for cigarettes, as long as actual cigarette packs were not part of that display.

This seems to undermine the entire purpose of the ordinance.

Tobacco companies could even use this proposed law to their advantage: Imagine a huge promotional display with a picture of a desert island and a message that states: "Discover life's hidden pleasures...Ask where Capri cigarettes are hiding."

Or a promotional display with a beautiful Wyoming mountain scene with the question: "Where is Marlboro Country? Ask your store clerk to help you find your special spot for freedom."

Sadly, but not surprisingly, it appears that the anti-smoking groups supporting this proposal didn't think it through. And they don't even appear to understand it, or to have actually read the text.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids issued a knee-jerk press release praising the measure but went on to misconstrue the proposal, stating that the law will: "prohibit massive store displays of tobacco products that tell kids tobacco use is normal and acceptable, while tempting smokers trying to quit into buying more cigarettes." This is deceptive, as the proposal would prohibit such displays only if they included the tobacco products themselves. A beautiful and elaborate display that advertises and promotes cigarettes, tells kids that tobacco use is normal and acceptable, and tempts smokers trying to quit into buying more cigarettes is still perfectly fine under this proposal.

If the Mayor and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are so concerned about youth smoking that they cannot even fathom the idea of a youth seeing a cigarette pack, then perhaps they should put their money where their mouth is and simply ban the sale of cigarettes in the city. Right now, they are just blowing smoke and playing politics. No one is going to stop or avoid smoking because of this proposal. The only benefit is a political one. And I think it's time to start putting kids and their health ahead of political games.

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