News and Events

New Court Ruling on Flavored Tobacco Products
Reprinted from ChangeLab Solutions (formerly known as Public Health Law & Policy)
December 13, 2012

This week a federal court in Rhode Island upheld local laws in Providence that limit the sale of flavored tobacco products and restrict certain price-discounting tactics.

Earlier this year Providence enacted a local ordinance limiting the sale of flavored, non-cigarette products within the city. The city also passed an ordinance to restrict multipack discounts (e.g., “buy two, get one free” offers) and the redemption of tobacco coupons. These laws were passed to limit youth access to tobacco products, particularly cheap, flavored tobacco products, which have been shown to be popular among young and low-income smokers.

The tobacco industry quickly challenged the ordinances: specifically, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO), the Cigar Association of America (CAA), and seven tobacco manufacturers and distributors claimed the ordinances were preempted (prohibited) by existing state and federal laws and that they were unlawful restrictions on free speech.

This week the federal district court ruled that both ordinances were lawful restrictions on tobacco sales that were reasonably related to the city's goal of reducing youth access to tobacco products. Judge Mary Lisi found that the Providence ordinances did not restrict tobacco marketing or implicate the first amendment, nor were they preempted by state or federal law.

The plaintiffs may choose to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals. While neither this district court decision nor a future appellate decision would be binding outside of that region, these rulings would set a precedent that courts in other states would likely take into consideration in deciding a similar case.

In November 2011, a federal court in New York upheld New York City’s similar ban on the sale of flavored tobacco, dismissing a legal challenge brought by the tobacco industry. For more information on this decision, see the details at our website.
If you have any questions about this ruling or any other questions about tobacco control laws, please submit them through our website at