Cigar Association of America has taken part with a group of tobacco
companies and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc in filing a
federal lawsuit in Rhode Island to stop a set of regulations that
would, among other things, restrict flavored tobacco sales.
Signed into law by Providence mayor Angel Taveras on January 12, the ordinances ban coupon and price discounts on cigarettes and prohibit the sale of non-cigarette flavored tobacco products such as cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco and snus. While menthol, mint and wintergreen flavors are exempt, fruity flavors, chocolate, vanilla, cocoa, herb and a host of others were not so lucky. The new laws, however, exempt cigar bars and hookah bars.
The new regulations are scheduled to take effect on March 1, but Craig Williamson, president of the CAA, said that is likely not to happen.
“Our attorneys and the [Phillip Morris] attorneys are working on a stay with the city and it appears the city will agree to it,” he said. While the stay would not become official until some time closer to summer, Williamson is confident flavored tobacco products will still be on store shelves come March 1.
The companies involved in the suit, which was filed last week, are R.J. Reynolds
Tobacco Co. and American Snuff Co. (both units of Reynolds American Inc.); Altria units Philip Morris U.S.A. Inc., U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Manufacturing Co. LLC, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands Inc. and John Middleton Co., the maker of Black & Mild and other machine-made cigars; and Lorillard Tobacco Co.
The lawsuit argues that the ordinance related to flavored tobacco violates retailers’ and manufacturers’ First Amendment right to freely describe the taste or aroma of tobacco. The suit contends that the right to Free Speech extends to commercial speech such as the type found in advertising.
Williamson added that the city failed to give proper public notice that the ordinances were adopted.
“They basically did it in the dead of night,” said Williamson.
If the laws do take effect, first time offenders would be fined $250 with the fine increasing after each subsequent offense. Vendors with three or more offenses could even lose their tobacco license.