WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider reinstating Maine’s law aimed at regulating Internet sales of cigarettes to keep them out of the hands of minors.

Trade associations for delivery companies successfully argued in an appeals court that a federal statute supporting the free flow of interstate commerce pre-empted the Maine law.

The Maine attorney general, who asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, argues that states should be allowed to exercise their historic public health police powers to stop delivery of tobacco to children.

To comply with the state law, carriers must specially inspect every package containing tobacco and destined for delivery in Maine.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that carriers had to change their uniform package-processing procedures to comply with Maine’s law. That, said the appeals court, conflicts with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act. It says states may not enact a law related to a service of any shipper.

The 2003 state law makes it illegal to knowingly deliver tobacco products to a Maine consumer if the product was purchased from an unlicensed retailer. Retailers must use only commercial carriers who ensure that the buyer is at least 18.

The appeals court decision in the trade association’s favor “leaves delivery sales of tobacco to children unregulated by any government, a result nowhere suggested by Congress or supported by common sense,” the Maine attorney general’s office said in asking the Supreme Court to take the case.

The state law was prompted by an increase in Internet tobacco sales carried out by direct delivery to consumers through the mail or by commercial carriers. The phenomenon has complicated Maine’s efforts to regulate the sale of tobacco to minors and also caused it to lose tax revenue because of tax-free sales by unlicensed companies.

The Bush administration sided with the trade associations, urging the justices to reject the appeal.

The case is Rowe v. New Hampshire Motor Transport, 06-457.


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