Judge Upholds NYC’s Ban On Using Cigarette Coupons


smoknA federal judge Wednesday upheld a local ban on using coupons to cut New York City’s highest-in-the-country cigarette prices, marking a win for the city in one of its latest anti-smoking efforts.

Barring coupons doesn’t violate cigarette makers’ and sellers’ free-speech rights to communicate with customers, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa ruled.

The law “regulates pricing, not speech, and thus, does not violate the First Amendment,” wrote the judge, who also rejected the tobacco industry’s argument that federal and state laws leave no room for the city’s measure.

The city Law Department and anti-smoking advocates hailed the ruling on a measure that helped cap more than a decade of laws and rules designed to discourage lighting up in the nation’s biggest city. During former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure, the city imposed the nation’s highest cigarette taxes, barred smoking bars and even beaches, and voted to raise the minimum tobacco-buying age to 21.

Wednesday’s decision is “a huge victory for the city’s comprehensive efforts to reduce tobacco usage,” said Nicholas R. Ciappetta, the city lawyer on the case. The city and such groups as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids say rebates particularly attract young people and other cost-conscious smokers.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which brought the lawsuit along with tobacco companies and another retail group, said it was weighing whether to appeal.

Coupons have existed for decades, “and we believe that retailers who sell legal tobacco products should have the right to accept coupons on these products,” said Thomas Briant, the association’s executive director.

The law passed last fall. Both sides agreed to hold off on its effective date until last month, according to the judge’s ruling. City officials plan to begin contacting retailers soon to alert them to the provisions.

They also include a $10.50-per-pack minimum, less than cigarettes often cost in the city. The lawsuit didn’t challenge the price floor.

Federal courts earlier upheld a cigarette coupon ban in Providence, Rhode Island.