“Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law for our sake as well as theirs.”

December 29th, 2010

Judge Rakoff (SDNY) found a New York City Law that would have forced “all bodegas and convenience stores to post gruesome images of diseased lungs, brains and teeth in the shops to discourage people from buying cigarettes” to be unconstitutional. The New York Times has more:

In a 13-page ruling, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan wrote that while the law was well intentioned, it violated federal law since only the federal government had the authority to regulate cigarette warnings and advertisements.

The decision puts an end — at least for now— to the city’s plan to have the placards displayed beside cash registers in more than 11,000 establishments across the city. While awaiting Judge Rakoff’s ruling, the city had agreed that it would postpone enforcement of its rule until this weekend.

In his ruling, Judge Rakoff said that health officials had good reason to view smoking as a “public health threat,” citing smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in New York City and the rest of the country. “Within New York City, roughly 7,500 people die from smoking annually — more than from AIDS, homicide and suicide combined,” he wrote.

But Judge Rakoff also cited a federal law enacted in 1965, the Labeling Act, which gave the federal government exclusive authority over cigarette warnings. That law, he wrote, seeks to balance public and commercial interests: the federal government protects the public, but also sets clear and uniform cigarette regulations that protect “commerce and the national economy.”

I just like the turn of phrase “merchants of morbidity.”