• April 17, 2024

Top Court Won’t Hear Flavor Ban Challenge

 Top Court Won’t Hear Flavor Ban Challenge
Image: Bill Chizek

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a legal challenge to California’s ban on flavored tobacco, reports Reuters.

On Jan. 8, the justices rejected an appeal by R.J. Reynolds and other plaintiffs of a lower court’s ruling holding that California’s law did not conflict with a federal statute regulating tobacco products.

The ruling ends a long battle over tobacco restrictions in the U.S.’ most populous state.

In 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a ban on all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, following concerns about increased underage vaping and tobacco use.

The tobacco industry and allied groups then gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure that would block the state from implementing its flavor ban. The move forced California to postpone the Jan. 1, 2021, implementation until after the ballot.

When the ballot took place in November 2022, nearly two-thirds of participants approved the flavor ban.  

A day after the California vote, Reynolds, along with a tobacco retailers group and a vape shop, filed a lawsuit arguing that the federal Tobacco Control Act preempts state and local laws that bar flavored tobacco product sales.  

In  March 2023, a federal judge rejected the plaintiffs claim, citing an earlier decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a similar ban in Los Angeles County.

California’s flavor ban took effect in December 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the measure in response to an earlier request by the tobacco industry.

California was the second state to ban all flavored tobacco product sales after Massachusetts, which passed similar legislation in 2019. Several other states have restricted flavored vaping products and several municipalities have adopted their own bans. The Biden administration plans to make a decision on whether to ban menthol cigarettes nationwide  in March.

Anti-tobacco activists welcomed the Supreme Court ruling. “States and localities should feel secure that they are not federally preempted from passing laws ending the sale of flavored tobacco products,” Yolonda C. Richardson, president and CEO of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote in a statement. “They should move forward expeditiously in passing these laws to protect kids, advance health equity and save lives.”

Critics of flavor bans say they have boosted out-of-state sales near Massachusetts and spawned an illicit market in California. There has also been controversy over the products that replaced menthol cigarettes in California, with health groups and state officials warning that the new products also violate the flavor ban.