Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The First Circuit upheld bans in the City of Providence, Rhode Island, on accepting coupons or otherwise selling tobacco products at a discounted rate and on selling flavored tobacco products (other than cigarettes) against First Amendment and preemption challenges.
The City imposed the "Price Ordinance" and "Flavor Ordinance" in order to reduce youth tobacco use. Tobacco manufacturers and trade organizations sued, arguing that the Price Ordinance violated free speech and that both ordinances were preempted by federal and state law. The First Circuit rejected the challenges and upheld the ordinances in Nat'l Ass'n of Tobacco Outlets v. City of Providence.
The court ruled that the Price Ordinance didn't violate free speech, because the ordinance "'only precludes licensed tobacco retailers from offering what the Ordinance explicitly forbids them to do,' and that offers to engage in banned activity may be 'freely regulated by the government.'" Op. at 13-14 (quoting the district court).
The court also held that the Price Ordinance wasn't preempted by the Federal Cigarette Advertising and Labeling Act. The preemption provision of the Labeling Act says that "[n]o requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes[,] the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this chapter." But Congress enacted an exception in 2009 (in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Lorrilard) that says that a state or locality "may enact statutes and promulgate regulations, based on smoking and health . . . imposing specific bans or restrictions on the time, place, and manner, but not content, of the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes."
The court ruled that the Price Ordinance met the content-neutrality requirement in the exception, because "it merely regulates certain types of price discounting and offers to engage in such price discounting," not the content relating to health claims or warnings. Moreover, the court held that the Price Ordinance met the time, place, manner requirement. The court said that minimum price regulations met that standard (they were common when Congress enacted the exception, and the plaintiffs conceded that they met the standard), and that the Price Ordinance is wasn't materially different.
The court held that the Flavor Ordinance wasn't preempted by federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The preemption clause of that Act prohibits states and localities from regulating "tobacco product standards" and "good manufacturing standards." The Act also includes a savings clause, however, which allows regulations "relating to" the sale of tobacco products. The court said that the Flavor Ordinance fell within the savings clause, because it's not a blanket prohibition (which, the plaintiffs claimed, was more than merely "relating to") but instead allows the sale of flavored tobacco products in smoking bars.
Finally, the court ruled that the Price Ordinance wasn't field-preempted by Rhode Island law, because Rhode Island hasn't occupied the field. The court also said that the ordinances didn't violate the state constitution, which prohibits local licensing measures, because the ordinances aren't licensing measures (and because the plaintiffs didn't challenge the City's licensing measure).