Tobacco Industry Squashes Village’s Ordinance

Haverstraw to bow out of first amendment battle before it even begins

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

On the heels of a lawsuit by seven tobacco companies and the New York Association of Convenience Stores, the Village of Haverstraw has scheduled a public hearing to rescind a first-of-its-kind ordinance passed this spring. The board indicated at a special meeting on Monday that the ordinance will be repealed on August 13.

Propelled by the activism of anti-tobacco groups like POW’R Against Tobacco, the village had previously passed the ordinance which enacted a ban on all public displays of tobacco products within stores frequented by those under 18 years of age, as well as displays of tobacco advertising or signage. The usual displays were to be replaced by a tobacco menu available upon request.

When the village was sued by the tobacco and convenience store industry Mayor Mike Kohut indicated he would only pursue the case if the village was backed financially by the anti-tobacco lobby. When the needed commitments failed to come through, the village agreed to rescind the ordinance, which was not scheduled to go into effect until later this year.

Village attorney Jay Hood Jr. said major court cases can sometimes cost a village over $100,000 and in extreme cases as much as $1 million. If the ordinance was allowed to go into effect, it also could have opened the village up to punitive damages. Kohut said, “It would make no sense,” to spend tax dollars to fight the case, which could as a first amendment matter, could even go as high as the Supreme Court of the United States.

Maureen Kenney of POW’R Against Tobacco lamented the defeat. “We tried our hardest [to find funds to fight the lawsuit]. We had offers of help from several organizations who could prepare legal briefings and arguments for the village to present and even some organizations who could offer some monetary support for filings and so on, but unfortunately not at the level needed to defend against seven tobacco giants. The tobacco industry came on very hard at the end to pressure the village to rescind quickly, so they are. It is a shame, but we have the utmost respect for the village for sticking their neck out there like they did.”

Attorney Hood Jr. disagreed with Kenney’s assertion that the tobacco lobby came on very hard, but rather said the village wanted to take care of it so as to avoid any expense.