New York Law Banning Cigarette Sales By Mail, Web Blocked by Judge's Ruling
NEW YORK -- A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of a New York state law that bans the sale of cigarettes by mail order, telephone and the Internet.
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a unit of British American Tobacco PLC, sued in U.S. District Court here last month, saying that the law, the first of its kind in the nation, is an "unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce."
In a 14-page decision handed down Monday, Judge Loretta A. Preska wrote that Brown & Williamson is "likely to be able to prove that the statute discriminates against interstate commerce" and, therefore, violates the U.S. Constitution. She stayed enforcement of the state law, which was to take effect Tuesday, and has scheduled a hearing to consider whether she should impose a longer-lasting injunction.
State officials said they still expect to prevail in the court fight. Suzanne Morris, a spokeswoman for New York Gov. George Pataki, said: "We believe that not only is the law constitutional, but that it will go a long way toward preventing our children from starting a deadly habit."
New York's Legislature passed the law earlier this year, saying that online, phone and mail-order sales of cigarettes pose a "serious threat" to public health and the state economy. Lawmakers concluded that such sales make it easier for children to obtain cigarettes. They also enable smokers to evade the state excise tax on cigarettes that, at $1.11 a pack, is the highest in the nation.
Brown & Williamson argued in court that the law represents "impermissible economic protectionism" by seeking to give in-state retailers a monopoly over cigarette sales. The company in October announced plans to start selling some of its less-popular brands using catalogs and, eventually, the Internet.
Judge Preska wrote that the state appears to have other options available to accomplish its various goals -- which include keeping cigarettes out of children's hands and making sure that taxes get paid -- that would place less of a burden on interstate commerce.
"We are very pleased with the ruling," said David H. Remes, a lawyer representing Brown & Williamson. "The opinion is a very strong reaffirmation of the basic rules that apply when a state discriminates against interstate commerce."