Legal Hotline: Fireworks ads

  • Jun 09, 2016

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  We have a number of fireworks ads scheduled to run.  Are there any laws that restrict the sale of fireworks in Pennsylvania? 

A:  Yes. Pennsylvania and federal law regulate the sale and use of fireworks, and newspapers should carefully evaluate fireworks ads prior to publication. 

The Pennsylvania Fireworks Law, 35 P.S. § 1271, et seq. imposes criminal penalties for unauthorized sale and/or use of many types of fireworks. The only types of fireworks not regulated by the Pennsylvania Fireworks Law are “ground and hand-held sparkling devices.” “novelties,” and “toy caps” as listed in American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) Standard 87-1.  These “non-fireworks” can be bought and sold legally in the Commonwealth without the need to obtain prior government approval.  All other fireworks fall into one of two categories, “consumer” fireworks and “display” fireworks, both of which are heavily regulated and require government-issued licenses to sell and use.

Display fireworks are not permitted to be sold to the general public in the Commonwealth, and ads purporting to sell display fireworks should not appear in newspapers.  Display fireworks are the biggest type of firework and are not intended for use by the general public.  They are bought, sold and used only by individuals licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and are typically seen at municipal displays on the 4th of July.  Some examples of display fireworks are: Lidu 5’ Star Shell, Vulcan Thunder Kings, “B” Cakes, and shells ranging in size from 1 ½ - 10 inches. 

Consumer fireworks can be sold at retail to the general public, but only if the retailer is licensed by the PA Department of Agriculture.  If an advertiser is not licensed by the Department of Agriculture, they cannot sell consumer fireworks legally in the Commonwealth.    Consumer fireworks are defined to include “any combustible or explosive composition or any substance or combination of substances intended to produce visible and/or audible effects by combustion …and which complies with the provisions for "consumer fireworks" as defined in the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) Standard 87-1.”  35 P.S. § 1271.  Typically, consumer fireworks are the type sold at roadside stands and retail fireworks outlets.  Some examples of “consumer” fireworks include roman candles, glitter cones, and bottle rockets.  M-80’s, M-100’s, cherry bombs and silver salutes are not consumer fireworks and are illegal.

Newspapers considering running ads for consumer fireworks should inquire about the license status of the advertiser.  If an advertiser is not licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and cannot produce a valid license number, they are not permitted to sell consumer fireworks, and the ad must be limited to “novelties” like toy caps, smoke bombs, sparklers and snaps.  If the advertiser is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, they can advertise and sell consumer fireworks, but there are additional restrictions on Pennsylvania residents wishing to buy and use consumer fireworks in the state.

Newspapers should refer advertisers with questions about the PA Fireworks Law to the PA State Police and the PA Department of Agriculture

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s attorney or the Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.


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