A New York law prohibiting cigarette sales via the Internet or mail order to state residents takes effect today, barring last-minute legal action to delay it.
The law was enacted in 2000 but delayed following a lawsuit by the tobacco industry, according to a report in the Buffalo News.
In April, the Online Tobacco Retailers Association and three of its members, along with two New York consumers, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.
They contend that the statute discriminates against both out-of-state online tobacco retailers and Indian retailers, to the benefit of local convenience stores.
“The New York statute clearly discriminates against our members, some of whom are Indian retailers in the state of New York. Additionally, New York residents will be deprived of the freedom to purchase tobacco on the Internet,” OLTRA president Ali Davoudi said.
OLTRA filed for a temporary restraining order June 16 to postpone the law, Davoudi said.
If the law takes effect today, the state plans first to target trucking and parcel firms delivering cigarettes, then try to go after vendors, according to reports. It was unknown, however, what the penalties would be for violations.
United Parcel Service, Atlanta, said it would comply with the law and deliver only to licensed and approved recipients. UPS reportedly is unsure how much it might lose in shipments.
The U.S. Postal Service will continue to ship cigarettes, however.
“If a mailer pays for something to be shipped, and it's legal to ship it, we are obligated to deliver it,” USPS spokesman Gerry Kreienkamp said. “We are a federal agency, [which] would supersede whatever the state law is.”
Kreienkamp also was unsure what this would mean to the postal service's bottom line.
“I suspect they don't ship a lot [of cigarettes] through the postal service,” he said. “Will there be a huge influx of mail volume as a result of this? I have no way of knowing.”
Supporters say the measure will prevent tobacco sales to children and boost state tax revenue. Officials estimate that the new law will add hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue.
Opponents, however, see the law as an infringement on their rights. OLTRA and some American Indian tribes seek a temporary restraining order on the law, saying it violates constitutional protections of interstate commerce and discriminates against tribal members.