U.S. High Court Rejects Mass. Tobacco Limits

WASHINGTON–The Supreme Court rejected stringent Massachusetts advertising restrictions aimed at keeping storefront cigarette signs out of view of children, but said the state can require shopkeepers to keep tobacco products out of youngsters’ reach.

Handing a victory to the tobacco industry, the justices said Thursday that the ad curbs were pre-empted by a federal law that governs tobacco labeling and advertising. The court also said some of the rules — barring cigars and smokeless tobacco signs near schools or playgrounds
— violated First Amendment free-speech protections.

The ruling calls into question similar ad restrictions enacted by scores of other local governments, including New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“From a policy perspective, it is understandable for the states to attempt to prevent minors from using tobacco products … ,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the court. “Federal law, however, places limits on policy choices available to the states.”

The 1999 Massachusetts regulations forbade outdoor tobacco ads within 1,000 feet of playgrounds, parks and schools. Retailers must place indoor ads at least five feet above the floor. Cigarette, cigar and smokeless tobacco displays must be out of the reach of customers.

Tobacco companies including Philip Morris Cos. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. had challenged the rules in federal district court in Boston, arguing that the prohibition “includes virtually the entire populated area of Massachusetts.”

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