June 28, 2012

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Big Tobacco bullying small town that enacted tobacco product display restrictions; we need to support the town

Haverstraw, NY, (population 12,000) has passed the first-in-the-nation tobacco product display restriction enacted in April.  This is an important development because it represents the first such effort by a local government under the authority returned to them by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

As we have learned so well from the progress made on smokefree environments, small communities led the way.  Their successes and the precedents they created beginning in the early 1980s laid the groundwork for all the progress since then.  As a result, it is very important for Kaverstraw to succeed.

Unfortunately, Big Tobacco understands the importance of precedent even better than the public health community and has ganged up on this very small village with a lawsuit filed by 7 tobacco companies and the New York State Convenience Store Association.  (Here is their press release announcing the suit.)

The cigarette companies have a long history of filing frivolous lawsuits to try an intimidate communities and prevent them from passing sensible public health protections.  The good news is that, if the communities have the wherewithal to defend themselves, they usually win.  The other good news is that -- unlike smoking and health litigation -- is that these cases are not all that expensive to defend.  The issues are purely legal, so there is not extensive (and expensive) discovery.  When we asked city attorneys what it cost to defend challenges of clean indoor air laws, they said it was about like a heavily contested zoning decision.  (For mode details on this history, see our paper "Tobacco industry litigation to deter local public health ordinances:  The industry usually loses in court."

A news story on the law suit quotes Maureen Kenney, director of POW’R Against Tobacco, as saying that, “The Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy out of
New England Law in Boston will be reviewing the complaint and providing the village with educational information.” 

I am glad to see that public health advocates outside Haverstraw are coming to its aid and urge state and national organizations to join in supporting Haverstraw as well.

This is a critical time for state and national organizations to provide appropriate support the town's legal defense (including if needed amicus briefs and even direct legal assistance) and shine a light on the insidious behavior of the tobacco industry as they once again, throw their weight around and pick on the 'little guys' as they work to protect the health of their youth.

If you are interested in helping, contact Maureen Kenney, who is coordinating support for Haverstraw:

Maureen Kenney| Director | POW'R
Against Tobacco
American Lung Association of the Northeast
White Plains, NY | Hauppauge, NY | Waltham, MA
237 Mamaroneck Ave, Suite 205, White Plains, NY 10605
914.347.2094 X15 | [email protected]
www.POWRAgainstTobacco.org | www.LungNE.org

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