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One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies could be in serious trouble for its marketing tactics.
According to the Associated Press, a U.S. district judge threw out more than two dozen complaints against Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., but approved the transfer of three lawsuits that accuse the company of deceiving customers with the “natural” and “additive free” labels featured on American Spirit cigarettes.
Many of the lawsuits were reportedly filed in 2015, after the FDA concluded Santa Fe Natural Tobacco and its parent company, Reynolds American Inc., misled customers into believing American Spirit cigarettes were less harmful than those of its competitors. AP reports Judge James Browning threw out complaints filed in in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington state. Some of the claims he dismissed “alleged that the company labeled cigarettes as ‘additive free’ and ‘natural’” to imply American Spirit products were less processed than others. Browning also ruled that the First Amendment does not protect the company from liability.
The three approved lawsuits will be transferred to a federal court in North Carolina, where Reynolds American Inc. is based. The tobacco company has not commented on Browning’s Dec. 21 ruling.
Since 2000, the Federal Trade Commission has required Santa Fe Natural to include the following disclaimers on American Spirit cigarettes: “No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette” and “Organic tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette.” Earlier this year, the company reached an agreement with the FDA to stop using the “additive-free” label on its products, as well as restrict the use of “natural” in their marketing.
According to a 2017 Reuters article, a U.S. survey of smokers revealed that 64 percent of American Spirit users were convinced their brand was safer than others. Only 8 percent of other brand users believed this.
“American Spirit smokers are being misled,” the study’s author Jennifer Pearson told Reuters. “They believe that their product is less harmful than other brands but there is absolutely no evidence to support that belief.”