In 2012 the Providence City Council followed New York City's lead and enacted two ordinances aimed at curbing tobacco use by young people. The first banned stores within the city from selling fruit or candy flavored, non-cigarette, tobacco products, while the other barred selling of tobacco products at a discount.
While the New York City rules are currently being challenged in Federal Appeals Court, a lawsuit filed by the tobacco companies against the Providence ordinances in U.S. District Court was recently dismissed. The tobacco companies based their challenge on a violation of their First Amendment right to free speech.
The judge in the case found that although the ordinances did prohibit retailers from accepting coupons or offering discounts on tobacco or from selling flavored non-cigarette tobacco products, this did not amount to an infringement any First Amendment rights. The rationale was that none of the banned practices amounted to an infringement on protected speech, specifically advertising.
While an appeal from big tobacco is all but certain, the question remains…should Newport, or other Rhode Island municipalities, follow Providence’s lead and enact similar ordinances to curb the use of tobacco by local young people?
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