A Flavor Prohibition in N.Y.?

Manufacturers respond to Ryan's call for outright ban of flavored tobacco

Published in Tobacco E-News

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan (D) is calling for an immediate ban of all flavored tobacco products in New York State. The legislation, which Ryan co-sponsored, has already passed in the New York State Assembly and is currently in the Senate Health Committee. Similar legislation passed the State Assembly last year, only to die in the Senate. This time around, Ryan is urging the Senate to vote immediately on the matter.

Speaking to reporters at the Roswell Cancer Institute on Monday, Ryan said, "while the federal government has stepped up to the plate to ban flavored cigarettes, there are all kinds of other tobacco products for sale that are flavored … New York State must act quickly to ban the sale of these products."

In addition to the already existing ban on flavored cigarettes, Ryan's legislation would prohibit the sale of all tobacco products with a characterizing flavor--or "a distinguishable taste or aroma, including but not limited to any fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey candy, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice flavoring." Pipe tobacco and hand-rolled cigars would be the only exception to the rule.

Continuing to sell flavored products would come at quite a cost to retailers--who could face up to a $100 fine for every package of flavored tobacco products sold or offered for sale. Manufacturers could be subject to a civil penalty of $50,000 for each style of flavored product sold or offered for sale more than once over a 30-day period.

While Ryan clearly believes an outright flavor ban is the best way to keep youths from smoking, many manufacturers and retailers disagree.

"While reducing underage tobacco use is an important goal for us, the prohibition of all tobacco products with characterizing flavors other than tobacco is not a good way to address the issue of underage tobacco use and is unfair to adult tobacco consumers who prefer such flavor varieties," said David Sutton, a spokesperson for Richmond, Va.-based Altria, whose tobacco operating companies include Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. and John Middleton.

"The recently enacted legislation granting the [U.S. Food & Drug Administration]  regulatory authority over tobacco products specifically prohibits the sale of cigarettes with characterizing flavors other than tobacco and menthol," Sutton said. "We believe this federal standard achieves an appropriate balance between legitimate adult consumer choices and stakeholder concerns about certain flavored cigarettes."

Although Congress banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, Sutton pointed out that they chose not to ban flavors in other products at that time.

"While adult cigarette smokers have not shown a significant historical or current interest in cigarettes with characterizing flavors, there is a long history of adult consumer interest in flavor varieties in other tobacco products," he said. "In addition to considering the preferences of these adult tobacco consumers, Congress recognized that a ban on such products could produce serious adverse consequences, such as fueling a black market for the prohibited products that would in turn undermine public health objectives."

Perhaps most importantly, Sutton objects to any such legislation taking place on the state level--which is exactly what Ryan's bill aims to do.

"We believe that any additional regulation of tobacco product flavor varieties should occur only at the federal level in the context of FDA tobacco product regulation," Sutton said.

It could take quite some time to determine whether flavors will be regulated on the state or federal level--the New York Senate Health Committee has yet to set a date for a vote on Ryan's legislation.