News Briefs 3/28/2013

Mayor Bloomberg Proposes Tobacco Displays in New York City

Now in his third and final term, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed on Monday, March 18 to ban the display of tobacco products in city stores. Such legislation would make New York the first city in the country to force retailers to put cigarettes out of sight.

Such a ban would require retailers to conceal their tobacco products from public view by placing them in a cabinet, drawer or behind a curtain (The New York Times, “Bloomberg’s Plan Would Make Stores Conceal Cigarettes,” 3.18.13). The ban would not, however, restrict the ability of retailers to sell or advertise their tobacco products, nor would it raise taxes on tobacco products.

The mayor also proposed a second bill that would raise the price of cigarettes and cigars, with a minimum cost per pack of cigarettes or small cigars of $10.50 (The New York Times). Moreover, the second bill creates harsher punishments for stores that seek to lower cigarette prices by selling smuggled products.

According to statements made at the news conference announcing the legislation, Mayor Bloomberg proposed the ban on public displays of tobacco primarily to shield children from tobacco marketing. According to one Health Department report, 80% of stores that sell cigarettes devote the majority of behind-register space to tobacco displays (Daily News, “Mayor Bloomberg bids to ban cigarettes and tobacco from being displayed,” 3.18.13). Children who are exposed to such open displays of tobacco products, the Bloomberg administration states, are two and a half times more likely to begin smoking.

Bloomberg also blames convenience store tobacco displays for normalizing cigarette use. At the news conference Bloomberg stated, “Such displays suggest that smoking is a normal activity, and they invite young people to experiment with tobacco.” (The New York Times)

Furthermore, Bloomberg intends the bill to assist New Yorkers looking to quit smoking.

“We know that out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind, but in many cases it can. And we think this measure will help reduce impulse purchases, and if it does, it will literally save lives,” Bloomberg explained (Daily News).

The proposed ban follows a series of measures taken in recent years in New York, and particularly in New York City, to decrease the prevalence of tobacco use. Combined state and city taxes, the highest in the country, add $5.85 to cigarette price – more than a pack originally costs.

Additionally, the Bloomberg administration has banned smoking in virtually all public places.

The consistent implementation of anti-smoking measures in New York has recently become a more central issue to the Vassar student body in the form of a potential campus wide smoking ban.

The Committee on College Life (CCL), made up of students, faculty, and administrators, will ultimately decide whether or not to put a campus-wide ban into effect. On its website, the Vassar Student Association acknowledges that even if Vassar does not go smoke-free immediately, the CCL may vote to isolate smoking to designated areas.

The statewide anti-smoking measures already in place coincide with a declining trend in New York City tobacco use. For example, amid cigarette bans and limits on public smoking, the city’s adult smoking rate dropped from 21.5% to 14.8% between 2002 and 2011.(CBS, “Bloomberg Tobacco Initiative Slammed by N.Y. Convenience Stores,” 3.19.13) Additionally, Mayor Bloomberg cites that the rate among city high school students has rested at roughly 8.5% since 2007. (Daily News)

Bloomberg’s proposal will ultimately go to the New York City Council for consideration.

—Carrie Plover, Reporter


Judge Rules Steubenville Teens Delinquent in Rape Case

On Sunday, March 17, Ohio judge Thomas Lipps found two Steubenville High School football players, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, guilty of the rape of a 16-year-old girl last August.

The verdict came on the fifth day of the emotional and highly-publicized trial. Richmond, 16, was sentenced to a one-year minimum in a juvenile rehabilitation center, but may be held until he turns 21. Mays, who the Ohio court found guilty not only of rape but of the illegal use of nudity-oriented material involving a minor, was sentenced to a minimum of two consecutive years. Based on the judge’s ruling 17-year old Mays may be held until he turns 24. (The New York Times, “Ohio Teenagers Guilty in Rape That Social Media Brought to Light,” 3.17.13)

The Ohio State Department of Youth Services will determine whether or not to detain the boys past their minimum sentences.

While the identities of both of the adjudicated minors was published, the victim’s identity remains protected because she is underage.

Judge Lipps delivered the “deliquent” verdict-the equivalent of a guilty sentence for adults-and also forbid both boys from having contact with victim until they are at least 21. Richmond and Mays may also be permanently registered as juvenile sex offenders, depending on their future behavior.

During the trial, prosecutors used social media to construct a timeline of the assault. Ohio investigators looked at hundreds of text messages recovered from over a dozen cell phones, which implicated Richmond and Mays in the assault. In one text read aloud during the trial, Mays admitted to assaulting the victim and circulating the images of the incident.

Meanwhile, the defense teams for the accused argued that the victim’s degree of drunkenness did not prevent her from giving consent. (Atlantic Wire, “The Steubenville Verdict Is in, and These Boys Are Guilty,” 3.17.13)

According to the New York Times, the most powerful evidence stemmed from the testimony of the 16-year-old unidentified victim. She described waking up confused after her assault, with no memory what happened.

The judge ruled that on Aug. 12, both of the accused penetrated the victim using their fingers. He also determined that, based on her level of intoxication, she was unable to give consent to sex. (The New York Times) In the state of Ohio, one of only a few states that hold this opinion, digital penetration constitutes rape.

At the close of the trial, photos of the courtroom showed both Mays and Richmond sobbing as they heard their verdicts. After learning their sentences, Richmond and Mays were given the opportunity to address the courtroom; both apologized to the victim and her family.

Mays, approaching the victim, said, “No pictures should have been sent around, let alone ever taken.” Richmond, who began crying as he attempted to speak, said, “I would like to say I had no intentions to do anything like that.” (The New York Times)

The victim’s mother delivered a statement to the boys on Sunday. “Your decisions that night affected countless lives including those most dear to you,” she said, continuing, “You were your own accuser through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on.” (The Los Angeles Time, “Victim’s Mother in Steubenville Rape Case Speaks After Verdict,” 3.17.13)

Upon sentencing Mays and Richmond, Judge Lipps referred to rape as among the most grave of crimes. Lipps also reminded the boys that, had they been tried as adults, they would have received much harsher punishment.

Further investigation into the case will continue, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine noted. State officials have interviewed over 60 people involved with the case, and though it is not yet clear whether more people will be implicated, prosecutors may pursue charges of evidence tampering and failure to report child abuse.

—Carrie Plover, Reporter

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