SANTA FE, N.M. — A Florida law firm this week filed the first attempt at a class-action lawsuit against Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. and its parent, Reynolds American Inc., claiming the cigarette maker’s packaging and advertising are intended to mislead smokers into thinking American Spirit cigarettes are healthier than other tobacco products, reported The Santa Fe New Mexican.
The lawsuit was filed this week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida by Justin Sproule, said the report.
The complaint seeks damages on behalf of Sproule and others who “smoke American Spirits because they have been deceived by claims, labels and advertising into regarding them as safer than other cigarettes.”
Descriptions such as “additive-free,” “natural” and “organic,” the lawsuit says, “are patently deceptive, especially in today’s market, where these terms have a potent meaning for the health-and-environmentally-conscious consumer.”
The company also exploits its marketing message in other ways, the complaint says, by selling its cigarettes in health food stores. “And it accompanies its cigarettes with literature from ‘America’s leading natural foods teacher’ who claims that the cigarettes are medicinal and that Native Americans smoke such additive free cigarettes without developing cancer.”
Santa Fe Natural Tobacco has been using the terms “natural” and “additive-free” to market American Spirit cigarettes since the company was founded more than three decades ago. But the labels are coming under increased scrutiny and legal challenges.
The lawsuit cites a recent U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warning to the company that promoting American Spirit cigarettes as “natural” or “additive free” violates federal law.
Santa Fe Natural Tobacco already is subject to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consent order, entered in 2000, that requires the company’s advertising to include a disclosure that “No additives in our tobacco does not mean a safer cigarette.” Its ads also include a statement that “Organic tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.”
The FDA, in an August 27 letter to the company, asserted that it has authority under a 2009 law to regulate “modified-risk tobacco products.” The agency directed the company to submit plans for “corrective actions.”
The Winston-Salem Journal noted that the FDA warning came about a month after the company began a national advertising campaign with full-page ads in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Time, Field & Stream, Southern Living, Architectural Digest, Vanity Fair and US Weekly.
A spokesperson for Santa Fe Natural Tobacco, Seth Moskowitz, told the newspaper that company policy prevented him from commenting on the lawsuit.