Big Tobacco Takes on Council

U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Manufacturing Company and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands filed a lawsuit against the city in December over a law approved by the City Council last year that bans the sale of favored tobacco products in the five boroughs.

In response to the suit, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, health care advocates and several members of the City Council gathered at City Hall today to let “big tobacco” know they wouldn’t be backing down, settling or negotiating anytime soon.

The City Council sent a message to big tobacco this afternoon: put it out.

The City Council sent a message to big tobacco this afternoon: put it out.

“What we did was legally right, but, more importantly, it was morally right, and we are not going to let this lawsuit threaten us,” said Quinn, who compared the tobacco product’s packaging to a tube of lip gloss. “Tobacco yet again has shown itself to be nothing but greedy and only interested in hurting the public health of New Yorkers.”

The lawsuit alleges the city overstepped its authority by going further than Congress and the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations. Federal law “does not permit a municipality to impose such sweeping regulation of tobacco products,” the complaint filed by the tobacco companies states.

Just weeks before the City Council approved its law, federal officials approved a ban on the sale of flavored cigarettes. The city then went a step further by banning the sale of chewing tobacco, cigars and cigarillos as well. It is this step big tobacco alleges is unconstitutional.

Health care advocates disagree, arguing Congress’s actions encouraged municipalities to create their own regulations.

Because of the packaging and the location of advertisements in corner stores and bodegas, said city officials, these flavored tobacco products can seem as appealing as candy to young adults and children. The products’ flavors, which range from cookie dough to grape to lemon-lime, don’t help either, they said.

“They have created what appears to be to children a smooth seamless transition from candy to tobacco products,” said Joanne Koldare, director of the NYC Coalition for a Smoke Free City. “But we’re onto them.”

According to the council, teen use of cigars and cigarillos has almost tripled in recent years. In 2001, 5 percent of students smoked only cigars and cigarillos. In 2007, 14 percent did.

Neither federal regulation nor the city’s bill affects the sale of menthol cigarettes.


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