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 January 11, 2024

Supreme Court declines case, leaving in place California's ban on flavored cigarettes

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a challenge to a California law prohibiting the sale of flavored cigarettes, leaving the state law intact.

Tobacco manufacturers and retailers, including R.J. Reynolds, argued that the state law contradicts the federal Tobacco Control Act, granting the US Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarette sales but not allowing states to outright ban specific products.

The explanation

"Under the TCA, states have broad authority to regulate the sale of tobacco products. They can raise the minimum purchase age, restrict sales to particular times and locations, and enforce licensing regimes," attorneys for the challengers told the justices.

"But one thing they cannot do is completely prohibit the sale of those products for failing to meet the state’s preferred tobacco product standards," they added.

The Supreme Court declined to comment on the case in its dismissal affirming the California court's decision.

The new law

California's SB 793 makes it illegal to sell or possess with the intent to sell flavored tobacco products. Challengers to the ban have faced consistent legal setbacks, with lower courts rejecting their challenges, and the Supreme Court denying an emergency request in 2022 to temporarily block the law.

The companies argued that the law has closed doors to one of the nation's largest markets for flavored tobacco products.

The move could potentially result in $1.4 billion in lost economic output and thousands of lost jobs, according to the companies involved.

California urged the justices not to take up the case, asserting the broad authority of states to regulate tobacco, including through outright bans, as recognized by the Supreme Court in previous decisions.

Companies complain

“Under the TCA, states have broad authority to regulate the sale of tobacco products. They can raise the minimum purchase age, restrict sales to particular times and locations, and enforce licensing regimes. But one thing they cannot do is completely prohibit the sale of those products for failing to meet the state’s preferred tobacco product standards,” the companies wrote in their request to the Supreme Court.

“That is because the TCA’s preemption clause specifically denies states and localities the power to enact ‘any requirement which is different from, or in addition to,’ federal ‘tobacco product standards,’’ they added.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta emphasized that no court has supported the tobacco industry's position that the Tobacco Control Act preempts restrictions or prohibitions on the sale of flavored tobacco products in the 14 years since its enactment.

The decision remains a controversial one, affirming the state's decision while choosing not to take on the case involving the big tobacco companies.

Written By:
Dillon Burroughs

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