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What is Tobacco Preemption?

Do the words “tobacco preemption” or “Local Option” mean anything to you? In a state that ranks 47th in smoking prevalence, those words should mean something to all of us.

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Put simply “tobacco preemption” means the state of Tennessee must pass legislation for all tobacco use policies. Meaning, if Mountain City decided they wanted to prohibit smoking on Main Street during the Sunflower Festival, they would be barred from doing so unless they could get a bill passed through the Tennessee General Assembly granting them permission. If Covington wanted to pass a new zoning requirement that would make all new businesses on their town square smoke-free, they too would be unable to do so without passing a bill through the General Assembly.  Preemption empowers bigger cities, who can afford to hire lobbyists to pass legislation, while leaving smaller and particularly rural communities behind.  This is why everyone should know about “Local Option”.

Local option is the ability for local communities to decide for themselves to act, or not to act on tobacco use policies. This would empower all Tennessee communities to make decisions themselves without the state preventing them. No longer will communities have to lobby the state legislature just to get tobacco out of public places.  Whether it’s a temporary ban on tobacco use during special events, or creating smoke-free neighborhoods, local people would be allowed to have those conversations and decide what is best for their situation.

This is exactly what Senator Bill Ketron and Representative Bob Ramsey hope to accomplish with Senate Bill 303/House Bill 122. Their bill would completely repeal the tobacco preemption clause from Tennessee law, and insert the local option. Finally, communities from the northeast to southwest corners will be allowed to craft their own tobacco policies. No longer will the fate of local smoking ordinances be in the hands of politicians from across the state, but rather it will be up to the people and communities themselves.

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