Cigarette makers sue over law
They say it violates freedom of speech
RICHMOND, Va. - Two of the three largest US tobacco companies filed suit yesterday to block marketing restrictions in a law that gives the Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco, claiming the provisions violate their right to free speech.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., maker of Camel cigarettes, and Lorillard Inc., which sells the Newport menthol brand, filed the federal lawsuit with several other tobacco companies.
It is the first major challenge of the legislation passed and enacted in June, and a lawyer for tobacco consumers doubted the lawsuit will be successful.
The tobacco makers claim provisions of the law “severely restrict the few remaining channels we have to communicate with adult tobacco consumers,’’ Martin L. Holton III, senior vice president and general counsel for Reynolds, said in a statement.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gives the FDA authority over tobacco for the first time and lets the agency reduce nicotine in tobacco products, ban candy flavorings, and block labels such “low tar’’ and “light.’’ Tobacco companies also must put large graphic warnings over any carton images.
The companies say in their lawsuit that the law, which takes full effect in three years, prohibits them from using “color lettering, trademarks, logos, or any other imagery in most advertisements, including virtually all point-of-sale and direct-mail advertisements.’’ The complaint also says the law prohibits tobacco companies from “making truthful statements about their products in scientific, public policy, and political debates.’’
The tobacco makers say the new mandated health warnings for cigarettes would relegate the companies’ branding to the bottom half of the cigarette packaging, making it “difficult, if not impossible, to see.’’
The lawsuit does not challenge the decision to give the FDA authority over tobacco products, and Reynolds spokesman David Howard said the company opposes only portions of the law.
Joining in the suit filed in US District Court in Bowling Green, Ky., are: National Tobacco Co., Discount Tobacco City & Lottery Inc., and Kentucky-based Commonwealth Brands, which is owned by Britain’s Imperial Tobacco Group PLC.
FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Quinn said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.