NYC tobacco: Will out of sight equal out of mind?
NEW YORK (CNN) — He’s at it again.
After naming tall sugary drinks Public Enemy No. 1, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday unveiled another public health initiative. This one would force city retailers to keep tobacco products out of sight.
But does out of sight necessarily mean out of mind?
“Young people are targets of marketing and the availability of cigarettes,” said the mayor. The legislation “will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking.”
It’s just the latest in a string of New York health initiatives blamed by some for eroding personal freedoms and contributing to a so-called nanny-state.
Last week a New York judge invalidated the city’s ban on sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. It was Bloomberg who first championed that ban, calling it part of a cure for New York’s “obesity epidemic.”
Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling called the drink restrictions “arbitrary and capricious.” The judges decision is under appeal.
Under the Tobacco Product Display Restriction bill, sellers would have to keep tobacco products hidden, in cabinets, under the counter or behind a curtain, except during a purchase by an adult or during restocking.
If it passes, New York would become the nation’s first city to enact such a law, Bloomberg said.
The mayor said the city is trying to dissuade customers from viewing cigarettes as “normal.”
“Smoking is going to kill these kids,” he said Monday on CNN’s “The Lead” in an interview with Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper. “It’s going to leave them with not the great career prospects that you’d like, not the education that you’d like.”
Opposition to the measure was not long in coming.
“The notion of forcing licensed, tax-collecting, law-abiding retailers to hide their tobacco inventory is patently absurd,” said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, which says it represents some 1,600 retail stores.
“This proposal arises from a wild theory that the mere sight of packs of cigarettes on a wall behind the store counter compels kids to start smoking,” Calvin continuted.
A spokesman for the parent company of Philip Morris USA, whose cigarette brands include Marlboro, Chesterfield and Virginia Slims, said the manufacturer opposes the measure because “we believe it goes too far.”
“We supported enactment of federal legislation in 2009 that gave FDA the power to regulate tobacco products, including at retail,” David Sutton, communications and media representative for Altria Group, said in a statement. “To the extent that this proposed law would ban the display of products to adult tobacco consumers, we believe it goes too far.”
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley said smoking rates among New York’s young people have remained flat since 2007. Bloomberg’s bill, he said, is an important next step in protecting teens from tobacco.
New York’s comprehensive smoking prevention program has led to a decrease in the smoking rate in adults, Farley said.
Another piece of legislation, the Sensible Tobacco Enforcement bill, targets illegal cigarette smuggling. The bill would increase penalties for retailers who sell tobacco without a license or fail to pay tobacco taxes. It would also prohibit the sale of discounted tobacco products.
Retailers could continue to advertise tobacco products and their price information under the proposed legislation.
In 1988, New York City passed the Smoke Free Air Act, which banned smoking in public restrooms and taxicabs.
Lawmakers toughened the law in 2002, to ban smoking in public indoor areas, including restaurants and bars.
In 2011, Bloomberg signed a bill banning smoking in many other public places, including New York City parks and public beaches.
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