WASHINGTON, November 6, 2013 — New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg dropped his proposed ban on cigarette displays in stores. But the city will see an increase in the required age to purchase cigarettes. In order to buy cigarettes in New York City, purchasers will be required to prove they are at least 21 years of age.
Bloomberg has made no secret of his feelings on cigarettes during his administration, banning smoking in most public places, and raising minimum prices of cigarettes to an unprecedented $10.50 a pack. In fact, New York City holds the highest cigarette tax in the country, with each pack incurring $5.85 in state and local taxes. So the recent withdrawal of Bloomberg’s proposal to ban in-store cigarette displays was a win for manufacturers of tobacco and electronic cigarettes around the country.
The proposal, which was presented to the city council as part of a group of initiatives regarding cigarettes, was reportedly dropped because of an ongoing debate on the subject of electronic cigarettes. Others cited Bloomberg’s concern over strong retailer opposition as his reason for withdrawing the measure. Retailers said the proposal, which would require them to hide cigarettes behind the counter, would hurt business and drive buyers to the black market.
As Bloomberg prepares to leave office, electronic cigarette manufacturers may be able to breathe a hearty sigh of relief. The front-runner in the election, Bill de Blasio, supported Bloomberg’s initiatives but is not expected to take quite as aggressive a stance against cigarettes. Word from the administration, however, is that the measure was put on hold while they determine whether e-cigarettes should be included in the ban.
Mayor Bloomberg’s concern was that the displays might attract the attention of children and encourage impulse buys. But e-cigarette retailers like Vapestick.co.uk argue that there should be a delineation between electronic cigarettes and regular cigarettes, since electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco.
Information that Mayor Bloomberg was seeking to expand bans on tobacco products to include e-cigarettes was contained in documents leaked by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), who argued that e-cigarettes should be treated separately from tobacco-based cigarettes, since they have been shown to be less harmful.
The action comes just as the FDA is expected to release its own regulations on e-cigarettes. Currently, a national debate is raging on whether e-cigarettes should be treated the same way as cigarettes containing tobacco. Four states already have indoor smoking bans on e-cigarettes and more are expected to follow. But industry advocates insist that the products provide a safer alternative to traditional smoking, even helping some smokers quit by gradually reducing nicotine intake.
If the FDA decides in favor of lumping e-cigarettes in with traditional cigarettes, the industry expects tighter restrictions to be imposed on manufacturers. Currently, the industry is bracing themselves for the ramifications of these restrictions, which will likely change the way e-cigarette makers market their products. TV ads for cigarettes have been banned since 1971 and providing samples of cigarettes has been prohibited since 2010.
The electronic cigarette industry has grown to a $1.5 billion dollar industry, having earned great exposure through NASCAR, TV ads, and product giveaways. The industry says it is careful to market only to adults, but opponents believe the products appeal to young adults, who are attracted to the flavor varieties.
Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society asked New York to enact a ban on cigarettes in flavors like blueberry, gummy bear, chocolate, and pink berry. Those who opposed the ban compared flavored cigarettes to flavored liquors, stating that adults should have the ability to smoke flavored cigarettes if they prefer.
The CASAA is also closely monitoring another bill in New York City, which calls for a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes or e-liquid in flavors other than tobacco, menthol, mint and wintergreen in areas other than an age-restricted “tobacco bar.” New York City law prohibits ‘tobacco bars’ that were not open in 2001.
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