Haverstraw Passes N.Y.'s First Ban on Tobacco Displays

NYACS: Anti-tobacco groups "badgering" officials into passing "breathtakingly absurd" laws

Published in CSP Daily News

HAVERSTRAW, N.Y. --  Setting a precedent with potentially major ramifications for New York's convenience store industry, the Village of Haverstraw in Rockland County this week adopted a local law banning displays of tobacco products in retail stores.

Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), described it as "breathtakingly absurd."

He said, "Licensed retailers have a fundamental right to communicate with their customers about the products they sell by displaying the products they sell within their own premises."

Calvin said the village board "swallowed the anti-smoking community's wild assertion that the mere sight of packs of cigarettes on a wall behind the counter compels kids to start smoking. Seeing beer in a store doesn't make them start drinking, seeing lottery tickets in a store doesn't make them start gambling, seeing condoms in a store doesn't make them engage in premarital sex. But that cigarette rack on the back bar--oooh, it has hypnotic powers."

The law will take effect in October 2012 barring legal action to overturn it, he said. Licensed c-stores could continue to sell tobacco, just not display it, instead providing age-verified customers with a printed tobacco "menu" to order from.

"Adult-only" establishments would be exempt from the product display ban, even though tobacco enforcement records show that tobacco-only stores are as susceptible to underage sales as convenience stores, said Calvin.

The law will be enforced by the Village Building Department. Fines for violations will range from $500 to $2,000.

Calvin said taxpayer-funded anti-smoking groups are "high-fiving one another" over the Haverstraw vote. "This has been their strategy for the past few years in New York," he said. "Approach well-meaning elected officials in small communities that industry trade groups don't usually monitor, bombard them with boilerplate alarming national statistics about tobacco use, and then charm or badger them about swiftly adopting 'landmark' anti-tobacco legislation that the groups can then use as leverage to persuade other communities to follow suit."

He noted that the same anti-smoking groups lobbied for a New York State law in 2002 requiring all retailers to confine tobacco product displays to behind the counter or in locked containers. They hailed its passage as a touchdown, but obviously turned around and moved the goal line, he said.

Calvin said that the underage tobacco sale rate in Rockland County is only 3.5%, far below the statewide average of 5.9%, according to the state Department of Health's recently released annual Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program Report for the year ending Sept. 30, 2010. The report lists the 20 individual Rockland County stores that sold tobacco to a minor that year. None of them were located in Haverstraw.