New York City - more on the anti-smoking signs lawsuit against Department of Health..

August 13, 2010 - In early June 2010 Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Tobacco Company, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., plus two major retail trade groups and two convenience stores, alleged in the Manhattan federal court lawsuit that the signs violate the sellers' rights by imposing the signs on them. (Big tobacco companies file lawsuit contesting NY City's anti-smoking signs - also see this news brief for background information on the graphic anti-smoking posters in retail outlets..)

NY City health officials are requiring stores that sell tobacco products to display graphic anti-smoking signs by March 1, 2010 but some experts and other New Yorkers question the effectiveness of the ad campaigns. Starting March 1, any city shops that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products that do not display these arresting anti-smoking signs risk fines of up to $2,000.

Massachusetts was poised to become the first state in the nation to force retailers to prominently display graphic warnings about the perils of smoking right where cigarettes are sold — at tobacco sales racks and next to cash registers. The proposal by the state Department of Public Health need the approval of the state Public Health Council. But now members of the council are waiting to see what happens with a pending New York lawsuit. "We are not going to take any action until after the initial hearing in New York City," says Jennifer Manley of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (Massachusetts - may force retailers to display graphic warning signs of perils of tobacco..)

That hearing is set for Oct. 14 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. The city agreed to stop enforcing its law until January 1 or 14 days after a judge's order, whichever comes first. The court case: US District Court Southern District of New York - NY Health Department signs in retail stores - 6/2/2010.

The tobacco companies argue that New York doesn't have the authority to require the posters. "The federal government has the exclusive jurisdiction over the content of these warnings," says Steve Callahan, spokesman for Altria, Philip Morris' parent company. "These gruesome signs were chasing customers away" who wanted to buy other items, such as milk, says Jim Calvin, of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS), which joined the lawsuit.

"There's a lot of evidence that these educational warnings work," says Eric Lindblom of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He says the lawsuit aims to "scare other jurisdictions from taking similar action."

A poster showing diseased lungs still hangs at the 7-Eleven at 345 W. 42nd St., store manager Bilid Chaudhary says. He says customers read it and some have bought chewing tobacco instead of cigarettes as a result, but overall sales are largely the same. At the CVS drugstore at 253 1st Ave., the city's smaller sign remains at the registers, assistant manager Ana Gonzalez says, but customers pay no attention and it hasn't hurt business.

On July 22, 2010, American Legacy Foundation and a number of other public health organizations1 moved for leave to participate as amici curiae (friend of the court) in support of the defendants. Plaintiffs oppose this motion on the ground that the proposed amici are unlikely to offer any information or argument that would not be raised by the parties to this case.

Reference: Tobacco companies sue NYC over signs, delay Mass. effort by Wendy Koch, USA TODAY, 7/14/2010.

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