Seven tobacco manufacturers and the New York Association of Convenience Stores have filed a federal lawsuit against Haverstraw to challenge the village’s law that prohibits retailers from displaying tobacco products in public sight, arguing it violates their freedom of speech.
The law, enacted in April, prohibits stores that are accessible to minors from openly displaying products containing tobacco or nicotine, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco. The products must be out of sight, but signs and other promotional items are not regulated. Products for smoking-cessation use, such as nicotine pads, are excluded.
The village was the first — and is still the only — municipality in the nation with a local law restricting tobacco product displays in stores, anti-tobacco activist groups have said.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asks that the court declare the law unconstitutional.
Haverstraw Mayor Michael Kohut said POW’R Against Tobacco, a coalition that seeks to reduce the risk of tobacco-related illnesses by lowering tobacco use, had urged the village to adopt the measure. Kohut said Wednesday he believes in the principle of the law, but that he would not spend taxpayer money fighting an expensive lawsuit.
“They have a lot of money on their side. They are standing up for their industry. … We are a good candidate in their eyes because they are big bullies coming out against little guys,” Kohut said. “I believe in the intent of the law, but I’m not going to drive us to the brink of bankruptcy to defend this.”
The plaintiffs — the convenience stores association and Lorillard Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., American Snuff Company LLC, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands Inc. and John Middleton Co. — argue that the law would violate constitutionally protected free speech rights by restricting manufacturers and retailers from communicating with adult tobacco consumers in Haverstraw about the availability, attributes and prices of their brands.