Jul. 26 2005
Washington, DC — We applaud Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell for filing suit today against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) to stop their false and misleading advertising for its “Eclipse” brand of cigarettes. RJR's unsubstantiated claims that Eclipse cigarettes “may present less risk of cancer” and other serious diseases is just another example of how the cigarette companies have continued to make misleading statements about the health risks of their products despite the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement and continue to take advantage of their unregulated status to market so-called “reduced risk” cigarettes.
As the suit explains, by falsely claiming that Eclipse cigarettes are less harmful than smoking other brands of cigarettes, RJR's advertising violates both Vermont's consumer protection statutes and the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in which Reynolds and other tobacco companies promised not to make material misrepresentations regarding the health consequences of using a tobacco product.
This lawsuit has far reaching potential consequences. R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies have used explicit and implicit claims that certain tobacco products are less hazardous to discourage smokers concerned about their health from quitting. Nonetheless, as study after study has found, there is no scientific basis for concluding that Eclipse cigarettes or any of the other so-called reduced risk products that have been marketed by R.J. Reynolds or the other tobacco companies have actually reduced the risk of tobacco related disease. By misleading consumers into believing that products like Eclipse have been shown to be less hazardous than standard cigarettes, tobacco companies have kept millions of Americans smoking with tragic consequences.
The actions of R.J. Reynolds that Vermont's lawsuit seeks to address demonstrate that the Master Settlement Agreement has not reduced the need for the federal government to regulate tobacco products. Currently, no government agency has the authority to make sure health claims are scientifically proven and products are marketed responsibly. RJR's reckless advertising underscores the necessity for Congress to pass strong legislation giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) full authority to regulate tobacco products and stop Big Tobacco from targeting our kids. Legislation has been introduced by U.S. Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and U.S. Representatives Tom Davis (R-VA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA). It would prohibit unsubstantiated health claims about so-called “reduced risk” tobacco products that would have the effect of discouraging current tobacco users from quitting or encouraging new users to start. RJR played a key role in defeating FDA legislation last year precisely so it could continue to engage in this irresponsible marketing. This lawsuit will stop one tobacco company from continuing to mislead smokers about one of its products, but it also demonstrates the need for a more comprehensive solution in the form of FDA regulation of all tobacco products.
This is also not the first time that RJ Reynolds has sought to market its products using false, deceptive or unfair tactics. It was RJR that conducted the infamous “Joe Camel” marketing campaign that was responsible for getting millions of kids to try smoking for the first time. In June 2002, a California judge found that RJR had violated the Master Settlement Agreement by continuing to market in youth oriented magazines and ordered RJR to pay a $20 million penalty for breaching the tobacco settlement. This lawsuit was resolved in 2004, when RJR was forced to agree to limit its tobacco advertising in magazines with large youth readership and avoid publications with at least 15 percent teen readership. In addition, RJR was ordered to pay $11.4 million in civil penalties and $5.9 million in legal costs for its reprehensible behavior.
More recently, RJR introduced a complete line of cigarettes that appeal to children and teens that are just as deadly and addictive as other cigarettes, but are flavored with candy and fruit flavors with names like Warm Winter Toffee, Winter Mocha Mint, Kauai Kolada (pineapple and coconut) and Twista Lime.
Every year in America, tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people and costs us more than $89 billion in health care bills. Unlike all other products we consume, tobacco products are virtually unregulated to protect consumers' health and safety.
We congratulate Attorney General Sorrell for his leadership on this issue. This lawsuit addresses an issue of vital importance to our nation's health. We also call on Congress to pass strong FDA legislation to put an end to the irresponsible and deadly marketing practices of R.J. Reynolds and its counterparts in Big Tobacco.