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Supreme Court upholds California ban on flavored tobacco

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In this photo illustration, packs of menthol cigarettes sits on a table in New York City.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid from the tobacco industry to block a California ban on flavored tobacco products.

The ban, or Proposition 31, was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November and will prohibit the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

The emergency plea was brought by R.J. Reynolds, a unit of British American Tobacco, and other major tobacco companies seeking to stop or delay the measure, which is set to take effect next week.

The law was first passed two years ago, but tobacco companies successfully funded a campaign to block its implementation and put the issue on this year’s statewide ballot.

Justices, however, upheld the ban without explanation or any public dissent.

R.J. Reynolds, which sells Newport menthol cigarettes, argued the ban contradicts the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, a federal law that prohibits states from blocking the sale of tobacco products.

“They can raise the minimum purchase age, restrict sales to particular times and locations, and enforce licensing regimes,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in their injuction application. “But one thing they cannot do is completely prohibit the sale of those products for failing to meet the state’s or locality’s preferred tobacco product standards.”

The plaintiffs also argued that the tobacco industry will face “substantial financial losses” from the law. Menthol cigarettes make up about a third of the market in California, they told the court.

R.J. Reynolds did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Some California cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have already enacted such bans on flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes.

Once the statewide law takes effect, California will become the second state in the nation, after Massachusetts, to enact a statewide ban.



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