NATO's Local Initiative Proving Successful

Published in Tobacco E-News

By  Thomas A. Briant, Executive Director

Facing $245 million dollars in federal taxpayer stimulus funds being award to local governments by the federal Centers for Disease Control to adopt restrictive tobacco ordinances, NATO has responded this year with a local grassroots project to assist retailers in responding to ordinances being proposed by local governments receiving such grants.  Various local governments are considering ordinances that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, prohibit the sale of single cigars or cigars in packages of less than four, or require graphic image posters at each register in stores that sell tobacco products.

In the past four months, cities from Philadelphia to Providence, R.I., to a number of cities in Massachusetts have been using the federal stimulus grant funds to lobby for passage of restrictive tobacco ordinances.  As a part of its local grassroots project, NATO's efforts have helped prevent the City of Philadelphia from passing an ordinance requiring graphic warning posters at each register in stores that sell tobacco products. 

In addition, NATO's local activities have resulted in more than a half dozen local boards of health in Massachusetts deciding not to ban the sale of single cigars or cigars sold in packages of less than four.  Specifically, the Boards of Health in Fitchburg, Gardner, Middleborough and Tri-Town (Lee-Lenox-Stockbridge) have not included cigar package size sales restrictions in their respective local tobacco ordinances, the Pittsfield Board of Health delayed further action on such a restriction, and the Board of Health in New Bedford, Mass., initially adopted a similar cigar package size sales ban last November, but has since reversed itself and removed this prohibition.

When the City of Providence, R.I., passed an ordinance in January, 2012 banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, NATO became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in U.S. Federal District Court seeking to overturn the Providence ordinance.  That suit is pending and motions have been filed seeking to overturn the ordinance.

One of the most significant local ordinances adopted was an outdoor and in-store advertising ban approved by the City Council of Worcester, Mass.  NATO informed the city council members that adopting a tobacco advertising ban was unconstitutional, but the city ignored NATO's warning.  The adoption of the ordinance led NATO to be the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit to overturn the tobacco advertising ban and just last month a federal judge struck down the Worcester advertising ban because it violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.