Only one day after California voters approved allowing a state law banning flavored tobacco products to take effect, a tobacco giant has sued to prevent it.
R.J. Reynolds on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging Proposition 31 and the law originally signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom two years ago. The law would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco and vaping products, and could happen within weeks.
“Time and time again, Big Tobacco has attempted to steam roll state efforts to protect our youngest residents from the damaging effects of tobacco use,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “While we have not yet been formally served with the lawsuit, we look forward to vigorously defending this important law in court.”
Reynolds, which makes Newport menthol cigarettes and also owns the vaping brand Vuse, is seeking an injunction of the ballot initiative.
But the ban's supporters cried foul.
“This is a corporation that sells deadly products trying desperately to overcome the will of the people of the state of California -- manipulating the legal system in an attempt to undo democracy,” Desmond Jenson, a senior lawyer in tobacco control programs at the Public Health Law Center, told the New York Times.
Tobacco companies had first turned to the ballot initiative to try to delay the ban and put the issue to a statewide vote, the Times reported.
That move “allowed tobacco companies to earn $1.1 billion in revenue while 37,000 youth tried candy-flavored tobacco products,” Laurent Huber, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, said in a statement.
Now, the freshly filed Reynolds lawsuit reiterates the claim that local and state governments do not have the right to challenge federal law under the Tobacco Control Act, which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco.
But that argument was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in March, after the company sought to overturn Los Angeles County's ban on flavored tobacco products. Reynolds is still trying to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Times reported.
Massachusetts was the first state to pass a ban on all flavored tobacco; in California, the sale of menthol cigarettes would be prohibited as well, the Times reported. Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey have all outlawed flavored vaping products, as have numerous cities and counties. So far, legal challenges to those bans have failed.
“Flavors attract youth, and the tobacco industry has long recognized that if they don't get them young, they will go on to lead healthy, tobacco-free lives,” Erika Sward, vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, told the Times. “Menthol unfortunately is a gateway cigarette, and kids who experiment with menthol cigarettes are much more likely to go on to become regular smokers.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on flavored tobacco.
SOURCE: New York Times