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Los Angeles County’s Flavored Tobacco Ban Challenged by Lawsuit

Three prominent tobacco companies have filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County over its flavored tobacco ban that was passed last fall and formally went into effect in recent months.

On June 1, a lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court for the Central District of California by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, American Snuff Company, LLC, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc. The trio is suing the County of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in an attempt to seek declaratory and injunctive relief from the ordinance which bans the sale of menthol cigarettes and every flavored tobacco product.

The ban was approved in early October 2019, and went into effect on Oct. 31, 2019. However, retailers were given 180 days to sell off any remaining inventory, which put the ban into effect for practical purposes just before the end of April 2020.

Once fully in effect, the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, became prohibited. Retailers will also be prohibited from selling individual small cigars or cigarillos unless it is packaged in a container of 20.

Calling it “an overbroad reaction to legitimate public-health concerns about youth vaping” and “one of the most draconian bans on tobacco products of any county in the nation,” the complaint states that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the 2009 federal law which empowers the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, contains language that prohibits state and local governments from enacting and standards or laws that either differ from or add on to federal law.

Additionally, the complaint says that the county’s ban stands as an obstacle to the purposes of federal law, which are to promulgate tobacco product standards that can be used at the national level. It notes that Congress and FDA have already established that “certain tobacco products, particularly menthol cigarettes, should remain available to adult users of tobacco products.”

The complaint seeks relief in the form of the county’s ordinance being declared invalid and unenforceable, as well as requesting that the court both preliminarily and permanently issue an injunction that prevents the county from enforcing and implementing the ban.

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