Jun. 6 2013
WASHINGTON, DC – A Vermont Superior Court judge this week ordered the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to pay $8.3 million for deceptive marketing of its Eclipse cigarettes that violated both Vermont’s consumer protection laws and the 1998 state tobacco settlement, which prohibited tobacco companies from misrepresenting the health consequences of using a tobacco product. The order stems from the court’s finding, after a lengthy trial, that Reynolds made unsubstantiated marketing claims that Eclipse cigarettes “may present less risk of cancer” and other serious diseases caused by smoking. The judge also issued an injunction that prohibits Reynolds from making any claim that a tobacco product is less harmful without strong, credible scientific evidence to support it. We applaud Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell for his leadership in pursuing this case.
The Vermont ruling is a timely reminder of the tobacco industry’s long history of deceiving the public about the health risks of its products and making false claims that certain products are safer. It shows why Reynolds must be viewed with skepticism when it claims to be a “transformed” tobacco company that supports “harm reduction” strategies, which call for promoting supposedly less-harmful tobacco products. In addition to deceiving the public, Reynolds continues to target kids with cigarette marketing, as shown by a new ad campaign for Camel Crush cigarettes that has run in many magazines with large youth readerships.
This case reminds policy makers that Reynolds’ “harm reduction” claims are nothing new and have previously been exposed as a sham. Tobacco companies have long made similar claims that so-called “light” and “low-tar” cigarettes are less harmful despite knowing from their own research this was not the case. “Harm reduction” has usually been a tobacco industry scheme to sell more cigarettes and other tobacco products, not to reduce the death and disease these products cause.
The Vermont ruling also shows that Congress acted wisely in 2009 when it passed the landmark law giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, which included strict regulation of any health claims. The law established safeguards to ensure such claims are supported by sound science and don’t do more harm than good by encouraging kids to start using tobacco products or discouraging current tobacco users from quitting. As tobacco companies roll out novel tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes and dissolvable tobacco, the FDA must act to regulate all tobacco products and prevent unproven or deceptive health claims from being made about them.
Preventing continued tobacco industry deception is critical to reducing the more than 400,000 deaths a year caused by tobacco use, which is the nation’s number one cause of preventable death.