In advance of hearing on tougher tobacco-sales rules, Philly advocacy campaign hits bump

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     (NewsWorks file photo)

    (NewsWorks file photo)

    Philadelphia has proposed new rules for the corner stores and bodegas that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.

    Philadelphia has proposed new rules for the corner stores and bodegas that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.

    The city health board has approved a plan to limit the number of tobacco retailers in each city planning district. And, in the future, the city will block new shops from opening within 500 feet of a school.

    A public hearing on the proposal is set for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Municipal Services Building.

    The city seemed to be laying the groundwork for the rule change this summer when the health department launched a campaign highlighting the high number of tobacco sellers in low-income neighborhoods.

    Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, director of the Division of Chronic Disease Prevention, said Philadelphia wants people to understand the power of marketing.

    “One of the reasons we see higher rates of smoking in low-income neighborhoods is the pervasive marketing in those neighborhoods,” she said. “Although we all make our own decisions about whether we smoke or not, we make those decisions in a social context.”

    But when the city tried to place its placards on the transit system, SEPTA rejected the ads.

    SEPTA director of media relations Carla Showell-Lee said the transportation authority does not take ads when they are “expressing or advocating an opinion, position or viewpoint on matters of public debate about economic, political, religious, historic or social issues.”

    Asked about the campaign, Bettigole said, “We feel this is all factual and well documented and not really open for debate.”

    “I think SEPTA was right to say, ‘Look we don’t want to be a part of this,'” said Jeff Stier, an analyst with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market think tank.

    Philadelphia crossed the line from public-health education to target the cigarette industry, he said.

    “The health department’s advocacy campaign was not about helping people quit smoking, it was rather about attacking retailers,” he said. “Demonizing those companies doesn’t help smokers quit.”

    The new regulations will protect teens and adolescents, city officials said.

    Last year, 23 percent of Philadelphia’s tobacco retailers sold tobacco to undercover, under-aged youth surveyors.

    That violation rate is twice the state average.

    The proposed regulations would also ban the city from issuing or renewing a retail permit for any business that violates the youth sales law three times within 24 months.

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