WINSTON-SALEM. N.C. — Reynolds American Inc. is taking action to keep its legal nonmenthol tobacco products on the market in California.
The company's subsidiary, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJRT), filed a lawsuit against California state officials, including Attorney General Robert Bonta, in response to Bona's issuance of several Notices of Determination that allege certain Camel and Newport cigarettes styles are "presumptively" flavored based on their promotional materials.
The lawsuit, filed in California state court, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, including that the notices be rescinded.
According to Reynolds, RJRT stands by its new products and believes that they comply with California state law and can continue to be sold. Before introducing the products for sale, RJRT followed all applicable pre-market regulatory requirements.
"The new Camel and Newport styles do not impart a distinguishable taste or aroma other than tobacco and are marketed to clearly indicate that they are non-menthol," the company said. "The California attorney general's notices do not acknowledge the fact that RJRT's new product introductions are prominently labeled and marketed as nonmenthol."
On April 25, Bona sent letters to RJRT and ITG Brands LLC warning the tobacco companies that, after review of referred packaging and promotional materials, several products were "presumptively flavored under the California flavor ban law." For RJRT, state attorney general's office called out Camel Crush Oasis Silver, Camel Crush Oasis Blue, Camel Crush Oasis Green, Camel Crisp, Newport EXP Non-Menthol Mix, Newport EXP Non-Menthol Max, Newport Non-Menthol Green.
For ITG Brands, the letter called out Kool Non-Menthol and Kool Blue Non-Menthol.
Both companies had until June 23 to respond to the notices.
California's Fight Against Flavors
The state's fight to ban flavored tobacco products dates back several years. On Aug. 28, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation into law after the California Senate voted 34-0 in favor of ban, followed by a similar 58-1 vote in the California Assembly.
[Read more: FDA Officially Proposes Ban on Menthol Cigarettes]
However, two months later the California Coalition for Fairness submitted more than 1 million signatures from registered voters to the Secretary of State's office in a bid to get a veto referendum to overturn the legislation onto the November 2022 ballot.
On Nov. 8, 2022, California voters approved Proposition 31, with roughly 62.3 percent voting yes and 37.7 percent voting against the measure. Proposition 31 upholds the state law barring the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol. It also charges a $250 penalty against stores and vending machine owners for each violation.
The vote was immediately met by legal challenges from the tobacco industry, which ultimately came to an end when the United States Supreme Court on Dec. 12 refused a request from multiple tobacco companies to block enforcement of the state's ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.
Originally set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, the legislation went into effect in December 2022.
According to Reynolds, the company 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.
"Prioritizing enforcement of these illicit vapor products, rather than focusing on compliant products, would better serve Californians," it added.
Winston-Salem-based Reynolds American Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of the global BAT Group and the U.S. parent company of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. Inc., American Snuff Co. LLC, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co. and Modoral Brands Inc.