Local Governments Seek More Retail Tobacco Restrictions

Thomas A. Briant, NATO Executive Director

It began in 2011 with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) using stimulus funds to give tobacco-related grants to local governments to adopt additional restrictions on the promotion and sale of tobacco products. The federal funding of these local tobacco grants continued into 2012 and was extended through 2015 under the federal health care reform legislation enacted into law.

This flow of federal funds has resulted in a new wave of local tobacco restrictions being proposed from Massachusetts, to New York, to Rhode Island, to Florida, to Minnesota, to Colorado and to California. In 2012 alone, NATO monitored more than 50 such local tobacco ordinance proposals and assisted retailers in responding to many potential restrictions. Three months into 2013, and NATO is monitoring and responding to 19 proposed local tobacco ordinances.

During 2012, the proposed local ordinances focused on such restrictions as banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, prohibiting tobacco coupon redemption, limiting tobacco promotional pricing, setting minimum cigar package sizes and increasing local tobacco tax rates.

This year, besides continuing to propose these same kinds of restrictions, local governments are also debating the elimination of tobacco product displays from public view (New York City), a moratorium on the issuance of a retail tobacco sales license to a new retailer that seeks to open a new retail store with tobacco sales (Billerica, Mass.), a limitation on and reduction in the number of retail stores allowed to sell tobacco products (Arlington, Mass.), a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes in all retail locations (which was amended by the Rock County, Minn., Board of Commissioners to allow electronic product sales provided the products are in locked display cases) and an increase in the legal age to purchase tobacco products to as high as 21 years old (Sharon, Mass., and Arlington, Mass.).

Given the number of local ordinances already pending this year with undoubtedly more to be introduced in the coming months, it is more important than ever for retailers to become engaged in the legislative process and respond to proposed tobacco restrictions. The passage of one local ordinance can serve as a precedent for other town, cities and counties to consider adopting the same kinds of restrictions.