Supreme Court hears arguments on tobacco delivery regulations
The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday heard arguments on whether state governments can require companies that deliver Internet tobacco orders to verify the age of their recipients.
Under dispute is Maine’s Tobacco Delivery Law. It requires companies that sell tobacco over the Internet to be shipped into Maine to be licensed by the state and to only use delivery services that will make sure minors are not ordering cigarettes.
The delivery companies must confirm that the purchaser is the addressee, the addressee is 18 or older, and to sign for the package. If the addressee is under 27 years old, he or she must present a valid identification showing proof of age.
The law also requires retailers who ship tobacco products to clearly indicate on the package that it contains tobacco products, and carriers must check packages to determine whether they bear such markings.
The New Hampshire Motor Transport Association and similar groups in Massachusetts and Vermont, challenged the law, saying it was preempted by a federal law called the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA).
The FAAA Act preempts, with certain exceptions, any state law that is “related to a price, route or service” of a motor carrier, including one affiliated with an air carrier, and the motor carrier argued that Maine’s law placed such a burden on carriers that it significantly affected their prices and services.
A District Court agreed with the trucking association that the law was preempted by the FAAAA, and its decision was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The trucking companies are being supported in a friend of the court brief filed by the Air Transport Association and FedEx, who said such preemption provisions are a feature not only of the FAAAA, but the Airline Deregulation Act.
“Left undisturbed by federal preemption, the Maine law — and other similar state laws “related to” the prices, routes and services of carriers — would create exactly the unmanageable patchwork of state regulations that Congress sought to avoid,” said the ATA and FedEx in their brief.
A 2002 study found about 2 percent of the cigarettes consumed in the United States are sold over the Internet. The Associated Press cited a study by Kurt Ribisl of the University of North Carolina that found the number of companies selling cigarettes over the Internet has risen from 88 in January 2000 to 772 in January 2006.
The dispute is also being watched closely by companies involved in the alcoholic beverages industry.
The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Inc. has asked the Supreme Court to keep controls over alcohol sales and delivery within the realm of state regulatory powers, rather than cede constitutionally granted state authority to the federal government.
In a friend of the court brief in the Maine Tobacco case, the wholesalers said states “have primary responsibility for combating underage drinking, as reflected in the 21st Amendment, congressional enactments, and prior decisions of this court.”
Chris Kennedy, a spokesman for that wholesalers group, said his organization is concerned that some delivery companies might not be diligent in following requirements that consignees be present to sign for deliveries or produce proof of age when receiving shipments.
So to prevent minors from buying alcohol over the Internet, but still allow consumers to buy product from small wineries, for example, the wholesalers have proposed a model law that would allow consumers to ship wine to local liquor stores where it would be held until they came and picked it up in person for a minimal fee. ' Chris Dupin