Court Upholds Providence, R.I., Flavor, Coupon Bans

Plaintiffs argued infringement of First Amendment free speech

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A federal district judge upheld two city ordinances in Providence, R.I., that ban the sale of certain flavored tobacco products and the acceptance and redemption of coupons, according to a report from the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.

NATO, the Cigar Association of America, Lorillard Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Snuff Co., Philip Morris USA Inc., U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Manufacturing Co. LLC, U.S. Smokeless Brands, Inc. and John Middleton Co. filed the lawsuit against the City of Providence.

The judge ruled in favor of the city on both ordinances and only removed one phrase from the definition of "characterizing flavor" in the flavor ban ordinance that read "concepts such as spicy, arctic, ice, cool, warm, hot, mellow, fresh and breeze."

NATO and the other plaintiffs made a number of legal claims and arguments to overturn both ordinances, with the main argument being infringement of the First Amendment protection of commercial speech in terms of advertising and promoting tobacco products by marketing flavored tobacco products, providing tobacco product coupons to adult consumers and offering promotional pricing on various tobacco products.

Other claims made by the plaintiffs included the preemption of the ordinances by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, preemption by the more recent Tobacco Control Act and preemption under Rhode Island state law.

The plaintiffs have until Wednesday, Jan. 9, to file an appeal to the judge’s decision with the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.