Proposed Newburgh Retail Tobacco Law Exaggerated, Duplicative, Unconstitutional

NEWBURGH NY (07/16/2014)(readMedia)-- A proposed ordinance that would severely restrict retail tobacco outlets in the City of Newburgh duplicates and conflicts with existing state regulation while exaggerating the extent of underage sales in the city, according to the New York Association of Convenience Stores.

Resolution No. 176, which will be the subject of a City Council public hearing on August 11, would:

- Require every tobacco-selling store to obtain a license from the city and pay a license fee, even though they already are licensed by the State of New York as retail tobacco dealers and pay a $300 annual fee. "That makes as much sense as requiring you to get a Newburgh driver's license on top of the New York State license that's already in your wallet," said NYACS President Jim Calvin.

- Require retail stores to hide the tobacco products they offer for sale. "Businesses have a constitutional right to communicate with their customers about legal products they sell by displaying them within their own premises," said Calvin. The proposed display ban is based on a far-fetched assertion that the mere sight of cigarettes displayed on a wall behind the counter compels kids to start smoking, as if seeing toothpaste on a store shelf induces them to brush their teeth.

- Require retail stores to check ID of any tobacco customer appearing to be under age 25, even though that is already required by the New York State Public Health Law. However, the Newburgh proposal says college ID cards could be used to verify age, conflicting with state regulation, which says college IDs are not an acceptable form of identification for tobacco purchases.

To justify more retail restrictions, Resolution No. 176 says the state Department of Health's 2008 Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program Annual Report found that 8.3% of New York retailers inspected that year illegally sold tobacco to minors. "Actually," said Calvin, "there have been three annual reports since then, the most recent covering the period ending September 30, 2010, which showed the statewide rate of retail non-compliance had dropped to 5 percent. Moreover, it said the rate in Orange County was just 2.8 percent – well below the statewide average – and listed only four stores within the City of Newburgh that committed an underage sale that year. Hardly the local public health crisis this bill is trying to portray using outdated information."

"As parents, citizens and responsible business people, we share the City Council's commitment to preventing youth access to tobacco products," said Calvin. "But it makes no sense to set up a new local bureaucracy to do the same things the state is already doing effectively, while saddling small businesses with new costs, more red tape, and infringements of their constitutional rights."