The Big Picture

An overview of federal, state and local tobacco issues.

By  Thomas A. Briant, Executive Director

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Also on the state level, five states considered but did not enact bills that would have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco products. The states with bills included New Jersey (age 21), New York (bills for ages 19 and 21), Oklahoma (age 19), Oregon (age 21) and Texas (age 21). Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah have a minimum purchase age of 19.

At the Local Level

Turning to the local legislative front, 70 cities and counties in 16 states have considered or are proposing local restrictions or bans on tobacco products. These bans include prohibiting tobacco product coupon redemption and outlawing promotionally priced tobacco products such as a buy-one-get-one free package. Also, some towns have considered ordinances to either limit or even reduce the number of retailers allowed to obtain licenses to sell tobacco products. And an increasing number of localities are proposing to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to either 19 or 21 years old.

Most recently, there have been proposals to require that all retailers remove tobacco products from the public view and ban the sale of electronic cigarettes and other smokeless tobacco products such as snus and nicotine tablets or lozenges. Finally, numerous towns, especially in Massachusetts, have required that cigars be sold in packages containing at least four cigars, and allow single cigars to be sold only if the retail price is at or above $2.50 per cigar.

Two local ordinances of particular interest are the New York City proposed tobacco regulations and the Canton, Mass., restrictions that were adopted in August of this year. The New York City council has been considering two ordinances that would prohibit retailers from displaying any tobacco products in the public view, ban tobacco product coupon redemption, eliminate promotionally priced tobacco products, and raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products to 21. An additional proposal has also surfaced that would apply these same restrictions to include electronic cigarettes, plus ban the sale of any flavored e-cigarettes. The New York City Save Our Stores retail coalition was formed earlier this year to organize retailers to oppose these restrictive tobacco regulations.

In August, the Canton, Mass., board of health adopted a local tobacco ordinance that bans the sale of snus and other non-combustible nicotine products such as dissolvable tablets, while also raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. However, the board of health removed from the proposed ordinance a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes. The ban on the sale of snus and other nicotine products is a first of its kind in the country and is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

In conclusion, when looking at the big picture, the legislative and regulatory landscape for tobacco products now covers all levels of government as shown by the legislative activity and FDA regulations this year. Tracking and responding to all of these legislative proposals can prove daunting at times, but the job is an essential one because tobacco products are a significant product category for retailers.

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