Haverstraw’s tobacco law faces with costly federal suit

To avoid the risk of incurring hefty legal services to fight the suit manufacturers of tobacco products, the village is considering the withdrawal of local laws that restrict tobacco displays in shops.

In April, the village passed a law forbidding the stores that are accessible to minor’s paraded products containing tobacco or nicotine, such as cigarettes, cigars and pipe and chewing tobacco.

Haverstraw has supported measures, POW’R on Tobacco Control, a coalition focused on reducing the risks of tobacco-related diseases by reducing tobacco consumption; officials warned that the youth of the village is in the habit of smoking cigarettes exposed images.

About three weeks ago, seven tobacco manufacturers - Lorillard Tobacco Co, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co, Philip Morris USA Inc, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, the American company Snuff LLC, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands Inc. and the company John Middleton, - and in New York Association of Convenience Stores has filed a federal lawsuit against the village of Haverstraw to challenge the law, arguing that it violates freedom of speech.

Village officials said they were in discussions with the anti-tobacco advocacy groups that could provide financial assistance to fight the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains. To gain time, the Board of Trustees at its last meeting unanimously decided to postpone the law from taking effect for six months, from October this year to April 2013.

But the council is now considering repealing the law. The decision can be taken at a special meeting set for 5 pm Monday through Haverstraw Village Hall.

“We will probably give it up,” said Mayor Michael Kohut, who has made it clear that while he believes in the principle of law in the country is not going to waste taxpayer money fighting the case. “We thought it would be someone coming to defend it for us, but, as now, was not.”

Haverstraw Village Attorney Jay Hood Jr. said last conference call with lawyers representing the plaintiff had convinced him that the repeal of the law would be “reasonable steps” to the village.

“They agreed that if we repeal the law, they will seek attorneys fees do not, and they will dismiss their lawsuit,” Hood said. “So I think it is reasonable to consider them or simply to repeal the law and is not responsible for any court costs or anything like that in the future.”

The village was the first - and so far the only - municipality in the country with a law limiting tobacco displays in shops, the anti-tobacco activist groups said.

Maureen Kenny, Director POW’R on Tobacco Control, said the village was known about the possibility of being sued by manufacturers of tobacco products through the adoption of the law. She and other anti-tobacco advocates appreciated the village for being a pioneer, although such a possibility.

“They showed great courage and I admire him for it,” said Kenny. “Unfortunately, it seems that the lawyers of the tobacco industry would be successful in putting pressure on the village to abolish the law quickly and the risk of having to pay for his legal costs accrued to date. This is absurd.”

David Sutton, spokesman for Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, U.S. brands of smokeless tobacco and John Middleton, said the company had no comment on its observation.

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