The city of Philadelphia may require retailers to post controversial health warnings wherever tobacco is sold. The Health Department is gathering public comment on the proposal this week.

In a similar move last year, New York City tried to force shopkeepers to post retail signs on the health harms of tobacco. 

That effort, which included images of decayed gums and diseased lungs, was shot down in federal district court.

A judge colorfully called retailers "merchants of morbidity" but said only the U.S. government has the authority to regulate tobacco advertising and labeling.

Giridhar Mallya leads policy and planning for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

He said point-of sale warnings may educate people who underestimate the health risks of cigarettes and cigars.

"We are aware of the New York litigation that occurred in regard to the New York City," Mallya said. "It's important for people to know that that initial decision is being appealed in U.S. Circuit courts. Here in Philadelphia we believe that there is appropriate legal authority and standing."

New York City posters were dubbed "too graphic" by some opponents.

Mallya says Philadelphia's point-of-sale signs would include both text and images, but the Board of Health has not decided what images would be used.

The Philadelphia Dominican Grocers Association opposes the proposal.

President Danilo Burgos said anti-smoking education is important, but shouldn't be foisted on retailers.

"It's the easy way out for officials to blame mom and pop stores," Burgos said. "We don't know of a lot of education programs they have going on in our public schools."

The Board of Health hearing is at 5:30 on Thursday in the city's Municipal Services Building, 1401 J.F.K. Boulevard.

This fall, WHYY is hosting "Smoke Signals," a series of forums to gather the community's input into tobacco policy in Philadelphia. The forums, run by the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, are supported by a grant from the city Department of Public Health, which will consider the input in formulating policy.

All forums begin at 6:30 pm.

Sept 20 at the Perzel Community Center, 2990 Saint Vincent Street

Sept 26 at WHYY, 150 N. 6th Street

Oct 6 at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown, 35 West Chelten Avenue

Oct 12 at the Fels South Philly Community Center, 2407 South Broad Street

Advance registration is requested.

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