Supreme Court sides with trucking on Maine tobacco law

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, Feb. 20, unanimously invalidated parts of a Maine law that bars Internet tobacco sales to minors and makes delivery companies responsible for enforcing the law. The justices said in their 9-0 vote that Maine cannot impose a regulatory scheme on transportation companies delivering tobacco products directly to consumers. The justices said federal transportation law prevents state-by-state regulation.

“Despite the importance of the public health objective, we cannot agree” with Maine’s approach, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. He said federal law “says nothing about a public health exception” enabling state regulation. Federal law bars states from regulating prices, routes or services of shipping companies.

A key provision in the Maine law made it illegal for anyone to knowingly deliver tobacco products to a Maine consumer if the products were purchased from an unlicensed retailer. That section also states that a person delivering a package “is deemed to know” that the package contains tobacco products if it (1) so indicates on any side other than the side directly opposite the label or (2) was shipped by a person listed by the Attorney General as an unlicensed tobacco retailer.

The trucking associations argued that these provisions would be such a burden on carriers and require such significant changes in procedures that the law constitutes a preempted regulation of services. Wednesday’s ruling could enable the transportation industry to argue that similar laws in other states are invalid.

For a copy of the Supreme Court’s decision in Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport Association, click here.