RICHMOND, Va. & WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. both cited freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as the reason behind a civil lawsuit seeking to overturn an impending ban on displaying tobacco products in stores in the Village of Haverstraw, Rockland County, N.Y.
As reported yesterday in a Raymond James/CSP Daily News Flash, the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), Lorillard Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., American Snuff Co. LLC, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands Inc. and John Middleton Co. filed the suit June 26 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York.
Defendants in the lawsuit are the Village of Haverstraw and the village agencies and officers that were assigned responsibility for enforcing the tobacco product display ban once it takes effect in October 2012.
Describing the ban as "a straightforward assault on the content of cigarette advertising and promotion" that violate their First Amendment right to free speech, they asked the court to declare the local law unconstitutional and permanently enjoin the Hudson Valley village from enforcing it.
The village board adopted the first-of-its-kind ban in April, claiming the sight of packs of cigarettes on a store wall compels minors to start smoking. Under the law, retail shops could continue to sell tobacco, just not display it, instead providing age-verified customers, upon request, with a printed tobacco "menu" to order from.
(See Related Content below for previous coverage.)
"Philip Morris USA, US Smokeless Tobacco Brands, John Middleton Co. and others are suing to challenge a recently-enacted local law in Haverstraw, N.Y., that prevents retailers from displaying tobacco products in their stores. If enforced, this local law would violate constitutionally protected free speech rights by restricting tobacco manufacturers and retailers from communicating with adult tobacco consumers in Haverstraw about the availability, attributes and prices of their tobacco product brands," David Sutton, spokesperson for Richmond, Va.-based Altria, said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News.
"This local law would also intrude upon the federal government's authority to regulate tobacco products," he added. "Through the Federal Cigarette Labeling & Advertising Act (FCLAA), Congress provided authority to the federal government over the content of cigarette advertising and promotion. This federal law specifically bars state and local laws, like Haverstraw's, from imposing requirements or prohibitions on the content of cigarette advertising or promotion based on concerns related to smoking and health."
And Bryan D. Hatchell, spokesperson for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based R.J. Reynolds, said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News: "We believe this new Law banning the display of tobacco products is not consistent with controlling Supreme Court decisions under the First Amendment, and we are filing suit to protect our First Amendment rights. This law is not about youth tobacco prevention, rather it's about prohibiting communication of a legal product to adults who choose to use tobacco."
"Retailers have a fundamental right to communicate with their customers about the products they offer by displaying those products within their own premises," said James Calvin, NYACS president. "The United States and New York state constitutions have long protected this form of commercial speech."