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New York Victory: Court Upholds Law to Prohibit Tobacco Discounts

In 2013, New York City passed a law (Local Law 1021-A-2013) that sets a minimum price for cigarettes sold in the city. The law also prohibits the use of coupons or promotional discounts to lower that price. Tobacco companies challenged the law on the grounds that it violated their First Amendment right to free speech. Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York returned its decision and upheld New York’s law. photo 2

Increasing the price of tobacco products is the single most effective way to prevent initiation among nonsmokers and to reduce consumption.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that a 50% increase in price lowers consumption by 20%. Raising tobacco taxes is particularly effective in reducing youth smoking, as youth often have less disposable income and shorter smoking histories than adults. In high-income countries, a 10% increase in tobacco prices will reduce consumption by about 4%. Read more about price measures here>

In an attempt to offset the rising cost and keep tobacco products cheap and more appealing to young people, tobacco corporations often offer discounts. According to the CDC, tobacco corporations spent $7.76 billion on price discounts and promotional allowances in 2011, just in the U.S. That amounted to 92.7% of all cigarette marketing expenditures. Read more about promotions and marketing here>

New York City’s law is intended to prevent tobacco corporations from circumventing price increases by offering discounts. Tobacco corporations argued that it limits their right to free speech by restricting the dissemination of price information. The Court held that the law is aimed at regulating the price of tobacco products, which serves the city’s legitimate goal of reducing tobacco use. The law does not limit the corporation’s speech about tobacco products, and therefore does not violate the First Amendment. Read the decision here>

This is an important victory for New York and for public health. States, counties and cities can now take steps to prevent tobacco corporations from undermining price increases. Coupon and promotional bans have the potential to be important tools in the fight against tobacco.

Read more about what state and local governments can do to combat the tobacco epidemic and see examples of model legislation in our upcoming Implementation Guide and database. Check back soon!

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