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Supreme Court Upholds California Ban on Flavored Tobacco

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In this photo, packets of menthol cigarettes lie on a table in New York.

Drew Anger | Getty Images

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

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

The urgent plea was presented by RJ Reynolds, a unit of British American Tobaccoand other major tobacco companies seeking to halt or delay the measure, which is expected 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 bring the issue to a national ballot this year.

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

RJ Reynolds, who sells Newport menthol cigarettes, argued that the ban contradicts the Federal 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 places, and enforce licensing regimes,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in their injunction petition. “But one thing they can’t do is completely ban the sale of these products for failing to meet state or local preferred tobacco product standards.”

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

RJ Reynolds did not immediately respond to a request for comment on 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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