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Retailers oppose city on new law for tobacco ; Convenience stores cite redundancy, cost

Convenience stores are pushing back against proposed tougher restrictions on retailers that sell cigarettes within the City of Buffalo, arguing that the ideas are redundant and costly.

The New York Association of Convenience Stores, a statewide group, contends that the Responsible Tobacco Retailing Act would duplicate efforts at the state and federal levels and create an additional burden on retailers that comply with laws governing tobacco sales.

"Our position is there is not a need, and actually there is a detriment and a cost, to burdening neighborhood retailers with additional layers of tobacco regulation when there already is extensive tobacco regulation here in Buffalo, and across the state and across the nation, with much more to come," said James Calvin, president of the convenience stores group.

Common Council Member Demone A. Smith of the Masten District is the sponsor of a draft version of the measure, which has yet to come before the Council for a vote. Smith could not be reached to comment Monday.

The measure would place restrictions on tobacco advertising at stores and aim to reduce the number of tobacco-selling outlets in the city. It would also require tobacco retailers to have a city license and mandate inspections to ensure compliance.

Supporters of the measure want to crack down on tobacco advertising that backers say is aimed at kids and are concerned about a high concentration of outlets selling tobacco in low-income areas.

Michael F. Newman, executive vice president of Noco Energy, which oversees the Noco Express Shops chain, said the efforts are misplaced. He contends that the measure would hurt licensed retailers such as Noco, which take steps to follow the law, such as verifying that customers are old enough to buy tobacco products.

"I think this ordinance does nothing more than simply broaden the differential between legitimate, responsible retailers and illegitimate retailers that are securing cigarettes in manners that are inappropriate and largely go tax-free, to neighborhoods," said Newman, who also is chairman of the convenience stores group.

The city should focus on retailers who do not obey tobacco sales laws, Newman said. "If they think that's a problem," he said, "I think they should address that problem."

Calvin said that he agrees that tobacco needs to be regulated but that such regulations are already in place, particularly with new powers granted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, Newman said, new regulations are in development. "The FDA has to be given time to do this," he said. "Why would any community need or want to leapfrog the FDA, or out-FDA the FDA?"

Smith's proposal calls for cigarette manufacturers to pay a fee tied to each tobacco product brand and style sold at stores in the city, to cover the cost of an inspection and permitting program. But Newman said the manufacturers would pass that expense to retailers, which would, in turn, pass it along to customers -- potentially costing the retailers more business as customers go elsewhere. While the convenience stores group is raising business concerns about the Responsible Tobacco Retailing Act, backers of the measure have focused on the social impact of tobacco use, as they try to curb smoking by young people.

The two sides disagree over controlling tobacco ads used by stores and taking steps to limit the number of sales outlets.

Hillary G. Clarke, regional advocacy director with the American Cancer Society, said her organization believes that "it is appropriate for the city to step in and to attempt to begin to sever the link between the tobacco industry and our kids."

"If you drive around the city, you truly are bombarded by tobacco ads, most of which appear to be aimed at kids," Clarke said. "I wish it was true that it was the price and the name of product. But look for the 'Alive with pleasure' sign, the bright green and orange one, that's outside every retailer right now."

Retailers could still display ads aimed at adults, but not use bright colors or position them at kids' eye level, Clarke said. Another provision would require stores to post signs about where people can get help to quit smoking, she said.

Clarke said she is "cautiously optimistic" that the city will implement the new regulations.


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