A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought against Los Angeles County by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, American Snuff Company, LLC, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, Inc. over its ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, ruling that the ban is indeed consistent with federal law regarding the regulation of tobacco products.
In a ruling issued on Aug. 7, Judge Dale S. Fischer of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said that the ban does not interfere with the federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), specifically because the county’s law does not regulate tobacco product standards, which fall under the purview of the federal law.
In her ruling, Judge Fischer wrote that the FSPTCA does not limit the county’s authority to enact requirements “relating to or prohibiting the sale, distribution, possession, exposure to, access to, advertising and promotion of, or use of tobacco products by individuals of any age, information reporting to the State, or measures relating to fire safety standards for tobacco products.” As such, it is protected by the Preservation Clause, which permits states and localities to prohibit the sale of tobacco products even if those sales bans are stricter than federal law.
The plaintiffs had also claimed that the ban undermined the FSPTCA’s ability to set national standards for the manufacture of and ingredients used in tobacco products. Judge Fischer ruled that the county’s ordinance does not do that, and as such is not impliedly preempted by the FSPTCA.
The complaint sought relief from the ban by asking the court to declare it 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 it.
This is the first in what could be a series of defeats for similar lawsuits, which have been filed in San Diego County, Philadelphia, and Edina, Minn.
Los Angeles County passed the ban in early October 2019, with it going 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 were prohibited from selling individual small cigars or cigarillos unless packaged in a container of at least 20.