While the FDA prepares to roll out graphic warning labels for cigarette packages, the city of New York had been hoping to get a head start on the agency by requiring stores that sell cigarettes to put up anti-smoking posters. However, a judge in U.S. District Court has ruled that the city doesn’t have the authority to enact such a regulation.
The judge fully recognized the harms involved with smoking, writing that “Within New York City, roughly 7,500 people die from smoking annually — more than from AIDS, homicide and suicide combined.”
However, he also cited the Labeling Act of 1965, which contains a provision forbidding any state laws from conflicting with the federal government’s policies on cigarette warnings and advertisements.
“Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law,” wrote the judge in his decision. “for our sake as well as theirs.”
The decision comes as the result of a suit filed by the country’s three largest tobacco companies — RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, and Lorillard — along with the New York State Association of Convenience Retailers.
The plaintiffs’ attorney is pleased as punch about the ruling, saying “It will allow the retail stores in New York to be freed of the obligation to put signs up urging customers not to buy their lawful products.”
But the city’s health department wasn’t as thrilled when they released this statement:
The city’s warning signs portray completely factual messages about the dangers of smoking… They do so at the exact moment when smokers are making decisions about purchasing tobacco. We believe it is the city’s responsibility to help smokers quit and to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.