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Crackdown on tobacco is focus of city debate

The pros and cons of imposing new laws to regulate the sale and advertisement of tobacco products spurred lively debate in City Hall on Tuesday.

About 50 people attended a hearing sponsored by the Common Council's Legislation Committee.

Anti-smoking advocates want the Council to pass one of the nation's toughest laws involving tobacco sales, but some retailers insist that a new city law would create an unneeded layer of restrictions that should be left to federal regulators.

Under the plan sponsored by Council Member Demone A. Smith of the Masten District, some new businesses would be barred from selling tobacco products, including pharmacies, restaurants, establishments that primarily serve minors, or businesses that are within 1,000 feet of schools. Beginning in 2014, tobacco products could not be sold at any drugstores, bars, restaurants, game rooms, or on school or college properties.

The law would require tobacco companies to pay a user fee for every brand or sub-brand of cigarette they distribute in Buffalo. The revenue -- which could approach $300,000 a year -- would be used to hire new inspectors to enforce the new laws.

Among the dozens of provisions in the bill are tougher regulations on tobacco advertising. They would include a ban on large outdoor tobacco product ads at stores near schools and a new rule that would not permit the amount of space for tobacco ads to exceed the square footage of ads for all other products.

Some supporters of the bill believe that the proliferation of advertising is one reason many youngsters begin to smoke. Stores are at the "front line" for the tobacco industry, said Pastor James Giles, executive director of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries. He said many stores are selling cigarettes to minors, "addicting them for life."

"I have young people stealing from their parents to buy cigarettes," Giles said.

Giles said he runs a substance-abuse treatment program where some people can kick a crack cocaine habit yet can't quit smoking.

Among those speaking against the new regulations at Tuesday's hearing were Michael F. Newman, co-owner of Noco Energy Corp. and chairman of the New York Association of Convenience Stores. The association has argued that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is already working on new regulations to govern tobacco retailing.

"My concern is that if we continue to throw more and more layers of government on top of these conditions, they'll become less effective -- not more effective," Newman said.

Daniel J. Shanahan, chief financial officer of Wilson Farms convenience stores, said he is not a "devil," but a "responsible tobacco retailer." No one wants minors to smoke, he said, but cigarettes are acceptable commercial products for adults.

"Our children in our community graduate from kindergarten knowing what the ill effects of cigarette [smoking] are," Shanahan said. "Our community is very well-educated. So what's the purpose of the Responsible Tobacco Retailing Act?"

Hillary G. Clarke, the American Cancer Society's local director of advocacy, argued that reducing the number of tobacco retail outlets over time would lead to reduced sales of products that cause nearly 9 in 10 deaths from lung cancer.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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