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(July 1 update: New York state has now implemented a similar law, which takes effect today.)

Do you want to redeem a coupon to treat yourself to some ice cream? Or maybe to save some money on a package of cookies or some candy for the kids? Sorry, none of that is legal anymore!

It may sound like some kind of dystopian anti-couponing future. But in a way, it’s already here.

New Jersey has become the first U.S. state to criminalize the acceptance of coupons – on tobacco products. A package of bills signed into law back in January has now officially taken effect. The new regulations forbid the sale of flavored vaping products, toughen penalties for retailers who sell tobacco and vaping products to people under the legal purchasing age of 21, and coupons or other discounts on tobacco and vaping products are hereby banned.

If you’re not a smoker, not a fan of the tobacco and vaping industries, and are concerned about the health of your fellow citizens, this may not seem like a bad idea at all. But beware the proverbial slippery slope, because banning coupons on one product that is legally available to purchase could lead to efforts to do the same with other legally available products that might not be so good for you. And that’s not just theoretical, because we’ve already seen it happen.

Several cities and counties already ban the redemption of coupons on tobacco and vaping products. But New Jersey’s is the first statewide law to do so. The aim is to prevent tobacco and vaping companies from using price promotions to entice would-be users to get hooked.

“Tobacco companies have spent billions of dollars on discounts and promotions in the U.S. alone. They do this in order to lure people into buying more of their products,” New Jersey state Senator Richard Codey said upon the signing of the bill he co-sponsored. “Discounted prices encourage consumption, and therefore tobacco and vaping companies use promotions and coupons to encourage young people to buy them,” co-sponsor Senator Patrick Diegnan said. “This signing eliminates a manipulative marketing ploy used by these companies to keep our youth hooked on their products.”

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The law states that no one “shall offer, provide, or accept” coupons, discount codes or other price promotions or rebates on tobacco or vaping products. Retailers that violate the law face escalating fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and a suspension or revocation of their license.

Such coupon bans – even on an already heavily-regulated, undeniably bad-for-you product like tobacco – have raised the prospect that activists might push for coupon bans on other products deemed hazardous to your health, like junk food.

Or, say, soda.

Last year, lawmakers in California proposed a series of bills targeting sugary sodas, one of which would have banned the acceptance of coupons on the fizzy drinks. “Big Soda subsidizes the cost of unhealthy sugary beverages,” state Assemblymember Rob Bonta said. “Promotions such as manufacturer’s coupons are one key contributor to our public health epidemic.”

But “Big Soda” wasn’t having it. Its lobbying efforts helped ensure that the anti-soda-coupon and other anti-soda bills all died in committee. In declaring victory, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association said the group was committed to “ensuring that food and beverages remain affordable and accessible for all Californians,” arguing that restricting discounts on soda would have put an unfair burden on consumers.

No such discounts are guaranteed to tobacco users in New Jersey anymore. And New York state could be next, as lawmakers there consider a similar measure that would ban tobacco and vaping coupons.

And that’s just the way anti-tobacco advocates want it. Studies have shown that nonsmokers who are given cigarette coupons are more likely to start smoking, and current smokers who are given coupons are more likely to continue smoking. The group Counter Tobacco says keeping prices high, by imposing taxes, setting minimum prices or “banning the redemption of coupons and other discounts… is one of the most effective strategies for reducing initiation, decreasing consumption, and increasing cessation of tobacco products.”

So who could argue with a well-intentioned effort to get people to quit smoking, or prevent them from even starting – even if it means that coupons become a casualty? And maybe we do drink too many sugary sodas, and eat too much ice cream and too many cookies. But are you willing to pay full price for your soda and snacks, if coupons for those products ultimately go the way of tobacco coupons?

Many couponers complain that there are never enough coupons for healthy products. Just give it time, though, and these couponers may get their wish. Because if health advocates and legislators have their way, coupons for products that the government decides are good for you, may someday be all that’s left.

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9 Comments

  1. I am seeking the actual language of the law. Banning the use of coupons may be within NJ’s purview, but banning their production and distribution to smokers is [*another*] violation of our right to free speech.

    I don’t like the first, but the second is an attack on the Constitution (US AND NJ).

    Can anyone provide a link to the NJ law on this coupon ban?

  2. This is smart to use this as a deterrent to smoking and vaping which, regarding smoking, there has been an effort for decades to reduce its use. This especially since the coupons encourage non-smokers to start and smokers to continue by providing easier access.

  3. Just another sign that we are under the thumb of a government who’s objective is to take total control of what we can and mainly can’t do with the illusion of freedom we’ve been programmed to believe we have. Freedom in the US is an illusion. Nothing more. We are here to serve them. God forbid they don’t get 90% of your money.

    • Hey we have to pay for all the free stuff the undocumented (illegal) so called citizens are getting for free!!! It has to come from someone….right? I can’t save a dollar for what I want but they can get everything for nothing! Time to recall Murphy and anyone else that aides and abets a criminal!

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