Justices express doubts on tobacco shipping controls

first_imgWASHINGTON – Several Supreme Court justices on Wednesday expressed skepticism over a Maine law aimed at cracking down on Internet tobacco sales to children. Paul Stern, Maine’s deputy attorney general, argued that states like Maine are trying to protect public health by ensuring that tobacco does not end up in children’s hands. Federal law, however, bars states from regulating prices, routes or services of shipping companies. Under the Maine statute, companies must check packages against a list from the state attorney general of known unlicensed tobacco retailers. They must deliver only to the person to whom the package is addressed and a recipient under age 27 must present identification before the package can be delivered. Maine’s restrictions might leave delivery companies with little choice but to “get out of the business,” Chief Justice John Roberts suggested. A 2002 study concluded that Internet vendors sold 400 million packs of cigarettes annually, 2 percent of the cigarettes consumed in the United States, a figure that anti-smoking groups say is growing. The number of Internet cigarette vendors has risen sharply from 88 in January 2000 to 772 in January 2006, says Kurt Ribisl, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s school of public health who has spent the past eight years studying the issue.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Congress wanted to end a certain category of regulation,” said Justice David Souter, challenging Stern’s argument that the congressional prohibition did not extend to the arena of public health. Justice Antonin Scalia said the practical effect of Maine’s law will be that Internet tobacco sellers will “just ship it through the postal service,” an area Congress has not addressed. Two lower courts ruled against Maine. But if Maine officials prevail in the Supreme Court, “any number of states will impose different standards on any number of different products that they deem unhealthy or unsafe,” say the three New England transportation company associations that filed suit. Intricate national delivery networks have been able to speed $6 trillion worth of packages to their destinations every year because Congress mandated that cargo carriers not be subject to an inefficient patchwork of state laws, the shipping companies argue. Like other states, Maine has imposed steep increases in cigarette taxes. So smokers nationwide increasingly are going online for bargains, and underage smokers are among them, according to anti-smoking groups. last_img