The company which manufactures American Spirit cigarettes has been sued after claiming its products are healthier than those distributed by rival firms.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., and also against its holding company, Reynolds American Inc., of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
According to the plaintiffs, the company has been involved in a series of shady practices, by falsely claiming that the products it puts on the market are less damaging than others from the same category.
The Food and Drug Administration is the national authority which regulates cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco in the United States.
In section 911 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C) , the FDA clearly specifies that the public shouldn’t be misled into believing products have been proven to be less harmful.
Labeling cigarettes as “additive-free” and/or “natural” is in violation of these guidelines, given the fact that the claims have not been scientifically supported.
This is especially important now when consumers are much more environmentally-conscious and health-preoccupied than before, and therefore easily swayed by such unique selling propositions.
The FDA does have a category of cigarettes called “modified risk tobacco products” (MRTP), which are defined as being “sold or distributed for use to reduce harm or the risk of tobacco-related disease associated with commercially marketed tobacco products”.
In order to have their products qualify as a MRTP, companies must submit an application to the FDA, coupled with scientific evidence of the cigarettes’ diminished disruptive effect. Only afterwards can tobacco manufacturers label or advertise their commercial items by explicitly referring to lower risks related to health and well-being.
Currently, no such MRTP designed for interstate commerce has been given this permit, and as a result such unregulated practices are considered in violation of federal law.
It appears that American Spirit cigarettes have been incorporating terms like “natural” and “additive-free” into their sales pitch ever since the company’s early beginnings, more than 3 decades ago.
However, nowadays these false statements have come under scrutiny, as authorities overseeing the tobacco industry have become more uncompromising.
It may be that the Santa Fe-based company also drew more attention to itself since its sales have been growing by 86% between 2009 and 2014, at a time when the cigarette market has been experiencing an overall downturn of 17%.
The FDA had issued a letter regarding its misleading marketing on August 27, warning the manufacturer that such practices are illegal, and “corrective measures” should be taken immediately, but it appears now more aggressive action was taken against these false claims.
Santa Fe Natural Tobacco spokesperson Seth Moskowitzz has refused to make any comment regarding the pending lawsuits, citing company policy. However, it has been revealed that executives from the tobacco manufacturer will be meeting with the FDA to discuss these marketing matters more thoroughly.
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