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HAVERSTRAW, N.Y. -- Major changes are coming this fall for retailers who sell tobacco in one New York State village.
The Village of Haverstraw in Rockland County recently passed a local law banning tobacco displays at retail locations. The American Lung Association in New York and POW'R Against Tobacco called it the first local law of its kind in the nation.
However, the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) said the move is setting a precedent with potentially major ramifications for the state's convenience store industry.
"Breathtakingly absurd," is how Jim Calvin, president of NYACS, described the law which will go into effect in October. "Licensed retailers have a fundamental right to communication with their customers about the products they sell by displaying [those products] within their own premises."
He added it's a "wild assertion" to think that youths will start smoking because they saw cigarettes in a store. "Seeing beer in a store doesn't make them start drinking, seeing lottery tickets in a store doesn't make them start gambling, seeing condoms in a store doesn't make them engage in premarital sex. But that cigarette rack on the back bar -- oooh, it has hypnotic powers," Calvin said.
Unless legal action overturns the new law, licensed c-stores would be able to sell tobacco but could not display it. Instead, according to NYACS, store employees would provide age-verified customers a printed tobacco menu to order from. Stores caught displaying tobacco products will face fines ranging from $500 to $2,000. Adult-only locations would be exempt from the law.
"This has been [anti-smoking groups'] strategy for the past few years in New York," Calvin explained. "Approach well-meaning elected officials in small communities that industry trade groups don't usually monitor, bombard them with boiler-plate alarming national statistics about tobacco use, and then charm or badger them about swiftly adopting 'landmark' anti-tobacco legislation that the groups can then use as leverage to persuade other communities to follow suit."
Citing the state Department of Health's recently released annual Youth Access Tobacco Enforcement Program Report for the year ending Sept. 30, 2010, Calvin noted that the underage tobacco sale rate in Rockland County is 3.5 percent, below the statewide average of 5.9 percent. The report lists the 20 individual Rockland County stores that sold tobacco to a minor that year. None were located in the Village of Haverstraw, he added.
Anti-smoking advocates hope the Haverstraw law will only be the first of many in the country. "We are hoping that this historic vote will ignite a domino effect of tobacco product display restrictions around the state and country," Maureen Kenney, director of POW'R Against Tobacco, said in a release. "The Village of Haverstraw mayor and board of trustees are to be commended for their efforts in reducing youth smoking rates."
Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, also noted in the release that tobacco product display bans in other countries such as Canada, Ireland and Norway have been an effective means of reducing youth smoking.
While Haverstraw is the first town in New York to pass a local ordinance banning tobacco displays, the board of health in Madison County, N.Y. is in the process of developing a county-wide display ban, as CSNews Online previously reported.