Providence vs. Big Tobacco

In January of 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 percent 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're fighting 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 of 2009, and our ordinance closes the loophole that allows the tobacco industry to sell other fruit and candy flavored tobacco products, like 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 and elsewhere, the tobacco industry circumvents state minimum price laws through creative "buy-two-get-one-free" gimmicks. Our ordinance closes this loophole too.

Predictably, big tobacco has challenged us in court. In December of 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 has appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

I encourage you to learn more about the harmful effects of smoking and what you can do to support our efforts by visiting here.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Policymakers have no excuse for not taking this issue on, and I'm proud that Providence is working with a wide variety of stakeholders -- our City Council, community groups, advocacy organizations and public health campaigns -- to stand up for our young people.