Protecting Our Children

In January 2012, I was pleased to sign two local ordinances designed to limit the ability of the tobacco industry to harm Providence’s young people. Together, these laws banned the sale of flavored tobacco products in the City of Providence, as well as sales involving the redemption of coupons and multi-pack discounts that are designed to circumvent state pricing restrictions.

Tobacco use poses a major public health threat for our young people. Nearly all tobacco use begins in childhood and adolescence – in fact, according to a 2012 Surgeon General report, approximately 88% of regular smokers begin by age 18. Each day, over 3,800 people under 18 smoke their first cigarette. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an estimated 23,000 children currently under the age of 18 could die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.

In Providence, we fought back.

Fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products appeal to young people who wrongly think that these products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes. The FDA banned most fruit- and candy-flavored cigarettes in September 2009 and our ordinance closes the loophole that allows the tobacco industry to sell other fruit- and candy-flavored tobacco products, such as cigars, chewing tobacco and other emerging tobacco-based products, here in the City of Providence.

Similarly, research has shown that the single most effective deterrent to smoking – particularly for young people – is the cost of a pack of cigarettes. According to the American Lung Association, a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth consumption by approximately seven percent. But in Rhode Island, the tobacco industry circumvents the state’s minimum price law through creative ‘buy-one-get-one-free’ gimmicks. Our ordinance closes this loophole as well.

Predictably, Big Tobacco has challenged us in court. In December 2012, the U.S. District Court rejected the tobacco industry’s arguments, siding with the City in our efforts to protect vulnerable young people from the dangers of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry appealed this decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. On September 30, the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the validity of Providence’s anti-tobacco laws, affirming the December 2012 decision of Rhode Island U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mary Lisi.

This court decision is another clear and decisive victory in our efforts to keep children from using and becoming addicted to tobacco. I applaud the First Circuit for their well-reasoned decision affirming the legality of our anti-tobacco ordinances, and I commend City Solicitor Jeffrey Padwa and his team for their strong and successful legal defense. This is an important step towards a healthier city. I hope that this ruling inspires other communities to follow Providence’s lead and take a stand against Big Tobacco.


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