News: New York City considers point-of-sale warning signs for tobacco products in convenience stores

In June 2009 Congress approved and President Obama signed legislation giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products. The FDA will also be allowed to restrict tobacco marketing to youth and require larger warnings on packages. The federal law also preserves state and local authority to adopt other tobacco control measures that they deem appropriate. So far, it appears that New York City is the first local jurisdiction in the United States to consider mandating point-of-sale warning signs since the passage of the federal legislation.
In June 2009 Congress approved and President Obama signed legislation giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products. (a video of the press conference on the signing of this legislation by President Obama is available here.)

Tobacco-industry critics had long argued that tobacco should not be exempt from important consumer protections such as ingredient disclosure, product testing, and restrictions on advertising to children. Advocacy groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, argued that in the United States, where products such as lipstick and macaroni-and-cheese are regulated to protect consumers, it did not make sense for the most deadly and addictive legal product in America to enjoy a special exemption (see a report by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids titled Big Tobacco’s Guinea Pigs: How an Unregulated Industry Experiments on America’s Kids and Consumers [pdf]).

Under the new law, tobacco companies will be required to disclose all ingredients in their products to the FDA, including nicotine and the toxic constituents in cigarette smoke. The FDA will also be allowed to restrict tobacco marketing to youth and require larger warnings on packages. The federal law also preserves state and local authority to adopt other tobacco control measures that they deem appropriate. So far, it appears that New York City is the first local jurisdiction in the United States to consider mandating point-of-sale warning signs since the passage of the federal legislation (3).

Details about the proposed health code amendment in New York City

On June 24th 2009, the City Board of Health voted to solicit public comment on a health code amendment that would require all New York City tobacco retailers to display prominent point-of-sale warnings and cessation messages (3,8). The proposed signs would include a graphic that shows the heath risk associated with smoking and information about how to get help quitting. The proposed point-of-sale warnings would affect the city’s approximately 12,000 tobacco retailers. Not surprisingly, the posters are opposed by groups such as the New York Association of Convenience Stores (9) and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (10). The Health Department said that although the tobacco industry or retailers may challenge the rule in court, the proposal would likely survive such a challenge because requiring the communication of factual information is constitutional. In a fact sheet [pdf], the New York City Health Department stated, “These warnings will provide factual health information about tobacco, while also providing useful information about how to avoid or overcome addiction to it. The goal is not to hurt retailers but to protect consumers. Retailers don’t have to sell tobacco. Those who choose to sell such a dangerous product have an obligation to warn people about the hazards.” The Health Department would provide the posters free of charge, and they would be available in multiple languages.

Scientific research supports such signage as a strategy to reduce the burden of tobacco use

Researchers believe that tobacco advertising has recently increased in retail stores and that these in store promotions are very effective in reaching children and teens (5). Studies indicate that 75 percent of teens shop in convenience stores at least once a week, and that they are more likely than adults to be influenced by advertisements (5). Despite laws against selling to minors, approximately 30% of youth smokers in New York City buy tobacco products in retail stores (7). And in New York City, approximately two-thirds of smokers would like to quit, but they need help in order to be successful (11).

Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City Health Commissioner, noted that “Smoking continues to be the leading case of preventable death in New York City. While the tobacco industry spends billions to glamorize smoking, we will show New Yorkers the harsh realities. These warning signs will help persuade smokers to quit and show children why they shouldn’t start to smoke” (3).

The evidence underlying point-of-sale warnings is strong and persuasive. Interested readers can review the Health Department’s Notice to the Public [pdf] that provides an overview of this evidence and specific details of the proposal (12). If the New York City Board of Health votes to introduce such signs in retail outlets, advocates hope to see reductions in tobacco sales to young people as well as an increase in the use of smoking cessation services for those seeking to quit.

 

References

1. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Fact Sheet “Toll of Tobacco in the United States.” http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0072.pdf. Accessed August 21, 2009.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Annual Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Economic Cost – United States, 1995-1999. MMWR 2002;51(14):300-303.

3. New York City Department of Health. Press Release dated June 24, 2009. “Board of Health votes to invite public comment on a health code amendment requiring New York City Tobacco Retailers to Post Health Warning Signs.” http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2009/pr045-09.shtml.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Deparmtnet of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention ad Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004.

5. Press Release dated June 4, 2009.  Schumer Reveals: Almost 100,000 NYS children will try their first tobacco product this year. Targeted News Service. http://schumer.senate.gov/new_website/record.cfm?id=313941.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

6. Presentation by Anne Pearson, Senior Legal Council for Policy.  Bureau of Tobacco Control, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  June 24, 2009. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/proposal-smoking-cessation.pdf.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

7. Unpublished data. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Epidemiology Services: New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2007. .  Cited in presentation by Anne Pearson, Senior Legal Council for Policy.  Bureau of Tobacco Control, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  June 24, 2009.

8. Factsheet by New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, June 25, 2009.  Proposed amendment to the New York City Health Code would require tobacco retailers to post health warning sigs at the point of sale.   http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/proposal-smoking-cessation-faq.pdf.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

9. Press Release dated August 3, 2009.  NYACS opposes tobacco warning signs.  State News Service. http://www.csnews.com/csn/cat_management/tobacco/article_
display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003999446
.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

10. Premium Cigar Retailers Oppose New York City Anti-Tobacco Moves.  July 30, 2009.  PRWeb.  http://www.topix.com/content/prweb/2009/07/premium-cigar-retailers-oppose-new-york-city-anti-tobacco-moves.  Accessed August 21, 2009.

11. Unpublished data.  New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Bureau of Epidemiology Services: New York City Community Health Survey 2008; April 2009.  Cited in presentation by Anne Pearson, Senior Legal Council for Policy.  Bureau of Tobacco Control, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  June 24, 2009. Accessed August 21, 2009.

12. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Board of Health.  Notice of Intention to Amend Article 181 of the New York City Health Code.    Notice of Public Hearing on July 30, 2009. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/notice-of-intention-amend-article-181.pdf. Accessed August 21, 2009.

 

Photo Credits:
1. niznoz
2. skaterftf