Big Tobacco Up To The Same Old Tricks after California Flavor Ban

Cigarettes, Disparities, Flavors (including Menthol), Product Availability

In August 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 793. Under the policy, the sale of tobacco products with a ‘characterizing flavor’, defined as the presence of a distinguishable taste or aroma other than tobacco, would be prohibited in retail stores across the state; this includes flavored e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and cigars in all flavors from fruit to mint to candy, as well as menthol cigarettes. While the policy was set to go into effect on January 1, 2021, a petition sponsored by the tobacco industry seeking to challenge the law sent it to ballot referendum. In November 2022, California voters upheld the state’s ban on the sale of most flavored tobacco products with over 63% of the vote in that referendum. While the tobacco industry promptly filed a lawsuit to stop the ban, the United States Supreme Court has refused to grant their request for an injunction, allowing the ban to finally go into effect on December 21, 2022.The industry didn’t win, they were able to delay the policy’s implementation by almost two years and make nearly $800 million on their deadly menthol cigarettes alone in the process.

Mailer for new non-menthol Newport cigarettes "Introducing what's next in fresh"
Image from Stanford Medicine

Now, Big Tobacco is (unsurprisingly) up to more of their same old tricks, attempting to circumvent the ban now in place in California with RJ Reynolds advertising supposedly new non-menthol versions of it’s Newport and Camel menthol cigarettes, according a NY Times article (R.J. Reynolds Pivots to New Cigarette Pitches as Flavor Ban Takes Effect), with descriptors including “a taste that satisfies the sense” and “a fresh new twist.” The products have nearly identical coloring and packaging as the previous menthol versions. While RJ Reynolds claims they do not have a characterizing flavor, the company is certainly relying on its same old tricks for targeted marketing, sending mailers to its previous menthol customers. The industry did the same thing when the FDA prohibited the use of “light,” “mild,” and “low tar,” descriptors on cigarettes – Marlboro circumvented the rule by changing the names of their “Marlboro Light” cigarettes to “Marlboro Gold,” while “Marlboro Ultra Lights” became “Marlboro Silver” and “Marlboro Mild” was renamed “Marlboro Blue”. [1]

In addition, some of the new products – Camel Crisp and Newport EXP – contain a synthetic cooling agent also used in some e-liquids that does not have the same minty odor or flavor as menthol but has a similar cooling effect.  

Read more on the industry’s attempts to get around the law from tobacco researcher Stan Glantz’s blog: is a project of Counter Tools. Counter Tools (logo)
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