R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Sues California Officials Over Non-Menthol Cigarettes

Attorney general claims company violated state’s flavored tobacco ban
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. cigarettes
Photographs courtesy of the California Department of Justice

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJRT) has filed a lawsuit against California state officials over allegations that certain Camel and Newport cigarettes violate California’s flavored tobacco sales ban.  

The subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc., Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said Friday that it filed a lawsuit against officials including California Attorney General Robert Bonta in response to notices his office sent RJRT on April 25.

The warning letters allege packaging and promotional materials for reformulated versions of Camel and Newport menthol cigarettes violate state law, which bans flavored-tobacco product sales, including menthol cigarettes. RJRT products that Bonta claimed were flavored were Crush Oasis Silver, Crush Oasis Blue, Crush Oasis Green, Camel Crisp, Newport EXP Non-Menthol Mix, Newport EXP Non-Menthol Max and Newport Non-Menthol Green. ITG Brands received a similar letter for its Kool Non-Menthol and Kool Blue Non-Menthol cigarettes.

Bonta pointed to the packaging colors and promotional materials that suggest sensory tastes or aromas apart from a solely tobacco-flavored product for several of the brands. He also claimed the reviewed Camel products include a non-tobacco capsule in each cigarette.

RJRT denied the claims and said the products subject to the letters do not impart a distinguishable taste or aroma other than tobacco. 

“RJRT stands by its new products and believes that they comply with California state law and therefore can continue to be sold,” the company said. “Before introducing the products for sale, RJRT followed all applicable pre-market regulatory requirements.”

RJRT is looking for declaratory and injunctive relief, including that the notices be rescinded.

“Reynolds has repeatedly called on enforcement officials in California to take action to combat the flood of illegal, unregulated, disposable vapes in kid-friendly flavors like Watermelon Bubble Gum and Rainbow Candy that are being shipped into the state’s ports from unknown origins,” the company said. “Prioritizing enforcement of these illicit vapor products, rather than focusing on compliant products, would better serve Californians.”

California’s flavored tobacco sales ban took place on Dec. 21, and includes menthol-flavored cigarettes. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products in the state in August 2020; however, it didn’t take effect until years later after being challenged by a referendum and later approved by voters.

"The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting Californians' health and safety and keeping young people from becoming addicted to new and possibly harmful tobacco products," the department told CSP Daily News. "We will review the complaint and respond as appropriate in court."

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