Next Up on Bloomberg's 'Ban Wagon': Tobacco Product Displays

Legislation is "patently absurd," Calvin of NYACS says

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

NEW YORK -- "The notion of forcing licensed, tax-collecting, law-abiding retailers to hide their tobacco inventory is patently absurd," said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), reacting to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement of the "Tobacco Product Display Restriction" bill, new legislation that would make New York the first city in the nation to keep tobacco products out of sight in retail stores.

The move follows the mayor's failed "big soda ban."

Bloomberg also announced a second bill, the "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement" bill, comprised of policies that will combat illegal cigarette smuggling, which--along with increased penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes or sell tobacco without a license--also prohibits the sale of discounted tobacco products, creates a price floor for cigarette packs and little cigars and imposes packaging requirements on cheap cigars (see related coverage).

As reported in a Raymond James/CSP Daily News Flash on Monday, the bills will be introduced at the request of the mayor by Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, chair of the Health Committee, on Wednesday.

The first bill prohibits the display of tobacco products to protect children from the marketing of cigarettes through their display at retail counters. It would require that tobacco products be stored out of public view, except during a purchase by an adult consumer or restocking and allow tobacco products to be kept in cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location.

Retail stores may still advertise and communicate tobacco product and price information to consumers.

"Young people are targets of marketing and the availability of cigarettes, and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking," said Bloomberg.

Bloomberg said studies show that the retail displays increase the likelihood that youth will experiment with tobacco products and become addicted.

"This proposal is based on a wild assertion that the mere sight of packs of cigarettes on a wall behind the store counter compels kids to start smoking," Calvin said in a statement provided to CSP Daily News. "Seeing beer in a beverage center doesn’t make them start drinking, seeing lottery tickets in a bodega doesn’t make them start gambling, seeing condoms in a pharmacy doesn’t make them start engaging in premarital sex, but that cigarette rack on the back bar--oooh, it has hypnotic powers."

He added, "Licensed retailers have a fundamental right to communicate with their customers about the products they sell by displaying those products within their own premises. If they illegally sell to minors, penalize them. If they illegally sell untaxed cigarettes, arrest them. But there is no rational basis for making them hide the legal products they have been licensed by the state and the city to offer for sale to adult customers."

While New York City would be the first in the nation with such a display ban, Bloomberg said, prohibitions began to be implemented in Iceland in 2001 and Canada in 2005, and these countries have already seen substantial declines in youth smoking, he claimed. Other countries, including Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and England, implemented product display restrictions more recently.

Youth who are frequently exposed to tobacco product displays are 2.5 times more likely to initiate smoking than youth who have less exposure, according to Bloomberg.

He cited a March 2013 Vital Signs report released by the Health Department that he said underscores the influence that cigarette product displays have on youth smoking. The Vital Signs report details findings from the Retail Advertising Tobacco Survey, an observational survey of about 2,000 licensed tobacco retailers conducted in summer 2011. The report found that 80% of New York City tobacco retailers have the majority of the area behind the checkout counter devoted to tobacco display (86% in high-risk neighborhoods vs. 79% other).

Product display restrictions not only protect youth from smoking, but also protect quitters from making impulse buys, he added. In a survey, about 59% of New York City residents, including 41% of smokers, favor keeping tobacco products out of sight, he said.

"This legislation will curb tobacco displays that continue to target our children and increase penalties on tobacco vendors whose operations run afoul of existing law. Eliminating enticing tobacco displays and low-cost cigarettes from unscrupulous vendors will yield tremendous health dividends," said council member James Gennaro.