R.J. Reynolds is fighting the law, the facts, and the people. What else is new? But this week the United States Supreme Court dealt the tobacco company a blow when it refused to block California's restrictions on flavored tobacco product sales. The Court’s decision allows the life-saving law to take effect by December 21, 2022, after more than two years of tobacco industry delay tactics.
This flurry of filings comes on the heels of the November 8 election, when California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 31, affirming the measure to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products that the state legislature had enacted in August 2020. Menthol and other flavors have been used by tobacco product manufacturers to target vulnerable populations for decades. Those flavors, particularly menthol, make it easier to start using commercial tobacco and harder to quit. Getting most of these products off the market will significantly advance health equity. By approving the measure, the people of California made it clear - they want Big Tobacco to stop targeting vulnerable populations to addict a new generation of smokers.
On November 9, 2022, however, R.J. Reynolds and tobacco industry allies filed a lawsuit trying to stop California from implementing the flavor ban. What’s more, R.J. Reynolds tried to circumvent lower court review by taking its case straight to the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, in an unusual legal maneuver, R.J. Reynolds asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case on the merits before it has progressed through lower federal courts. California strongly opposed this attack on its evidence-based and broadly supported law.
On December 6, the Public Health Law Center – together with five of the nation's leading local authority and public health law organizations - filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the tobacco company’s all-out effort to hold on to the fruit- and candy-flavored products that are an essential way to attract and addict new tobacco users. Those partners include Action on Smoking and Health, ChangeLab Solutions, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy, and the Public Health Advocacy Institute.
With its partners, the Public Health Law Center opposed R.J. Reynolds’s emergency application for an injunction of California’s law. "[We] are committed to supporting democratically enacted policies by state and local governments that educate the public about, and protect the public from, the devastating health consequences of tobacco." We submitted the brief "to protect the authority of the state and local governments to enact public health measures regarding tobacco products that will protect their communities."
The people of California have spoken. The Public Health Law Center applauds the U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of R.J. Reynolds's request to further delay the law.
Willow Anderson, Staff Attorney
Joelle Lester, Director of Commercial Tobacco Control Programs
December 13, 2022