New York illegally forced anti-smoking signs to be displayed

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New York City has no authority to oblige sellers of tobacco products to post anti-tobacco warnings, showing diseased lungs, dead corpse and decayed gums and tooth, a U.S. court of appeals decided this week.

anti-smoking poster in New York

The ruling delivered by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, comprised of three judges, was a defeat for New York health authorities, who were encouraged by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have turned anti-smoking campaigns into a crusade.

Major tobacco groups, led by Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American and Lorillard, together with two largest trade associations and two store chains, have submitted the lawsuit in June 2010, complaining the graphic labels will infringe their commercial rights. New York City agreed to put a temporary delay in enforcement of the pictures due to the litigation.

Judges Denny Chin, Peter Hall and Gerard Lynch declared that although “the intention of the City to increase the level of consumers’ education in this field is quite understandable,” but only federal legislation may “oblige retailers to display warning signs closer to cigarette displays.”

An attorney for Philip Morris USA declared in a statement that “this litigation has always been aimed at providing understanding over the authority to regulate the sizes and text in tobacco warnings.”

“This authority is only granted to the federal government, and the state or local authorities have no legal powers to interfere,” declared Murray Garnick, one of the counsels for Altria Group, parent company of the Philip Morris USA.

The decision upheld a previous ruling by U.S. District Court in Manhattan, headed by Judge Jed Rakoff, announced in December 2010, according to which the City had overstepped its authority by obliging the warnings to be visible at the stores selling tobacco products, since only the federal authorities are entitled to impose such restrictions on the marketing activities of tobacco industry.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the Labeling Act preempts state legislation when it is related to regulation of promotion or advertising of tobacco products. The New York measure would have had the incorrect impact on regulating “the content of the manufacturers and sellers’ marketing efforts.”

Commenting on the ruling in a statement unveiled earlier this week, The NYC Health Department claimed that the latest ruling would result in reduction of the number of smokers who put an end to their habit when seeing the gruesome images at the points of sale.

The three posters, designed by the Department of Health, pictured the hazardous effects smoking may trigger in the body. The posters had special messages, like “smoking leads to tooth decay” and provided the phone number of the citywide smoking cessation help line.

It’s an open secret that Mayor Michael Bloomberg considers fighting tobacco usage his personal mission. In 2003, the Mayor introduced the ban on smoking in public spaces, which was heavily criticized by the public, but became widely recognized since then. In addition, the City has also prohibited smoking in all outdoor public venues, including parks, playgrounds, transport stations and others.

The U.S. government obliges cigarette makers to place the “Surgeon General’s Warnings” regarding potential health complications on all cigarette packs and advertisements.

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