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Spray Paint/Graffiti Control

Spray or aerosol paints are paints formulated for spraying from a hand-held pressurized can for the finishing and touch-up of cars, machinery, metal furniture, appliances, and other unlimited items. Approximately 80 percent of aerosol paints are sold to consumers for “do-it-yourself” paint jobs with the remainder sold for industrial or construction applications. Additional applications include construction-related markings, parking lots, and athletic fields, as well as arts and crafts.

The variety of surfaces to which spray paint can be applied and its diversity of users points to its singular ability to accomplish a professional finish unachievable with brush paints. Its unique capacity to cover hard-to-reach or irregular surfaces, coupled with its convenient portability, and long shelf life, make it a user-friendly and irreplaceable product. In addition to its engineering for both discreet and large areas, spray paint is also environmentally favorable in that it is storable until completely used, and aerosol cans are completely recyclable when emptied. However, the specialized nature of spray paint makes it the subject of troubling questions that may have adverse consequences for the product design and commercial value of this corner of the paint and coatings industry. Such focus revolves around the problems of graffiti vandalism, changing chemical technology to meet more stringent environmental standards and the recent incidences of inhalant abuse.

Graffiti Vandalism

In recent years, a number of American communities have become targets of graffiti vandalism, much of it carried out with aerosol paint. For the industry, this criminal misuse of legitimate products is a disturbing problem and the focus of a substantial effort to support and strengthen local anti-graffiti initiatives across the country.

For example, when the city of Philadelphia committed to a massive campaign to clean up graffiti and prosecute vandals, the industry was involved from the beginning. Through the National Council to Prevent Delinquency’s Anti-Graffiti Project, the industry provided resources for developing school curriculum materials; retailer loss prevention training support; paint and supplies for neighborhood, school and playground cleanups; and staffing grants for mobile graffiti abatement units.

As states and municipalities cope with the cost and irritation of cleaning up after graffiti vandals, they often seek new powers to help them solve the problem. In some cases, such legislative initiatives take the form of “supply side” controls, the most common of which is restricting the display and sale of spray paint.

Banning the Sale of Spray Paint

Obviously, the exercise of government power most threatening to the paint industry is a product ban law, such as that enacted in Chicago in early 1992. Once in force, the law banned spray paint sales to private citizens, permitting sales only to government agencies, public utilities, schools, contractors and other businesses.

An analysis of Chicago graffiti one-year after the ban showed a modest reduction in spray paint graffiti, with an offsetting increase in glass etching and marker graffiti. Although contemplated or introduced in a number of cities, there are no other ban laws in the United States. However, there are a number of supply-side controls in place ranging from bans on sale of spray paint to minors, to retail registration of spray paint purchasers, to spray paint “lockup” laws.

“Lockup” Ordinances

While “lockup” ordinances have never been shown to reduce graffiti vandalism, they have made substantial inroads into legitimate sales of spray paint and related items, sometimes reducing them by more than one-third. Under “lockup,” retailers are required to keep spray paint displays in locked cases or cages or otherwise inaccessible to customers without employee assistance. By taking the product off open shelves and requiring floor personnel to assist in the selection, these laws add time and inconvenience to the consumer purchase decision, thus dramatically cutting sales.

The principal flaw in applying supply-side controls to the graffiti problem is that they attempt to change a criminal behavior by regulating a legitimate product. Also, because graffiti vandals have alternative sources of paint and are quite willing to use alternative tools such as markers, paint sticks and etching tools, supply-side controls simply cannot control supply.

The National Council to Prevent Delinquency and Responsible Retailing™

In an effort to successfully address the criminal mishandling of spray paints and emerging legislation that unfairly punishes the spray paint market, the National Council to Prevent Delinquency (NCPD) was established in 1994. The council, launched by the paint industry and funded by members of the American Coatings Association's Spray Paint Manufacturing Committee, seeks effective and workable public policies to tackle the unlawful misuse of spray paint. As such, NCPD acts as an advocate in the interest of combating graffiti and an industry representative against potentially damaging legislation.

To that end, ACA and NCPD, with industry support, enacted and implements the Responsible Retailing™ program in localities that have experienced significant graffiti vandalism. This program consists of identifying all spray paint retailers, preparing guides explaining the legal restrictions and practical theft prevention considerations for the sale and display of spray paint in plain view, producing in-store signage and offering theft prevention training education for retail sales staff.

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