Posted by: audreybenenati | January 13, 2010

City Set To Snuff Out Flavored Tobacco Products Despite Lawsuit

By Suzanne Ma

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

January 12, 2010 7:26pm

[NEW YORK] CITY HALL — Two tobacco companies are suing the city over a law banning retailers from selling candy-flavored tobacco products, Council Speaker Christine Quinn said Tuesday.

But the city is determined to snuff out such products across all five boroughs, the speaker said.

"It is clearly another example of the unfettering greed of the tobacco industry," Quinn said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"But it is not something we are afraid of. This is a solid law. This is a smart law. So go ahead big tobacco, you can bring it on."

The ban goes into effect on Feb. 25 and prohibits the sale of various products, including flavored cigars and cigarillos (short, narrow cigars that are wrapped with whole-leaf tobacco). The products come in an assortment of flavors ranging from apple martini to chocolate chip cookie dough.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Tobacco Companies: "Bring it on." (DNAinfo/Suzanne Ma)

Quinn and advocates from health and clean air groups charge that the products, which have three to six times the tobacco found in regular cigarettes, are deliberately disguised by multi-colored wrapping and sweet flavors to lure young people into buying tobacco products and eventually becoming life-long nicotine addicts.

"I looked at the pack here and I thought, ‘Gummy bears,’" said Joanne Koldare, director of the NYC Coalition For a Smoke Free City. "They have created what appears to be, for children, a smooth seamless transition from candy to tobacco products. But we’re onto them."

According to the city’s Department of Health, the number of youths who smoke cigars and cigarello have almost tripled since 2001, from five to 14 percent, Quinn said.

A selection of flavored tobacco products typically found in bodegas across New York City. (DNAinfo/Suzanne Ma)

The city’s law comes on the heels of a federal law, enacted this summer, that bans the sale of flavored cigarettes (except for menthol) across the United States.

But tobacco companies argue that the city doesn’t have the legal right to enact such a law.

"Localities should allow the FDA to consider issues like this one in a regulatory process that allows for public comment," said Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company for the two companies filing the lawsuit.

"We believe that the ban is bad policy because it unfairly denies adults who use tobacco products access to the products they prefer," Phelps told DNAinfo, adding that the ban would have a negative impact on the local New York City economy.

"At a time when the economy is suffering, it’s putting additional pressure on businesses," he said. "We don’t think it makes a lot of sense."

Pablo Hussein, who works in a Delancey Street bodega on the Lower East Side, said the store would lose "a couple hundred dollars" of sales when the ban goes into the effect — a small sum compared to what Altria may lose.

"We can sell other things," said Hussein, pointing at the magazines, lotto tickets, snacks and cigarettes, lining the store’s shelves. "We are the little store in between. It is the big companies that have a problem."

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