Group Sues NY Over Internet Tobacco Sales
ALBANY, N.Y. -- A group of cigarette distributors and sellers sued New York Wednesday seeking to overturn a law banning Internet, telephone and mail order tobacco sales.
The suit by the Association of Responsible Cigarette Sellers, filed in state Supreme Court in Erie County, contends the 2000 state law violates the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause.
David McNamara, the group's lawyer, said his case was bolstered by last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down laws in New York and Michigan that banned wine shipments from out-of-state producers. The Constitution prohibits states from passing laws that discriminate against out-of-state businesses.
The group, based in Salamanca, N.Y., near the Seneca tribe, claims the law also violates the Indian Commerce Clause, which gives the federal government the sole right to regulate commerce with Indian tribes. Many Internet sellers are located on tribal reservations in western New York.
Marc Violette, a spokesman for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said the office had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
In January, Spitzer said Philip Morris USA, the nation's biggest tobacco company, agreed to end shipments of any of its products to customers, Indian tribes and enterprises that states deem illegal, as part of an agreement with attorneys general for 37 states and territories.
The action was the third prong of the states' efforts to curb the sale of cigarettes to minors over the Internet and by mail order. In March 2005, major credit card companies agreed to stop processing payments from Internet retailers. Shippers DHL and UPS Inc. agreed to stop shipping packages from the vendors.
Authorities consider Internet cigarette sales to be illegal because they violate state and federal laws aimed at collecting sales taxes and stopping sales to underage smokers.
The lawsuit seeks to keep Spitzer from enforcing the agreements with the shippers and credit card companies.