Out of Frying Pan, Into Fire?

Judge dismisses lights class-action suit against R.J. Reynolds; AGs warn about Eclipse claims

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- A Minnesota state district court judge has dismissed in its entirety a lights class-action suit, Dahl v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., ruling that the claims brought against the company conflicted with the federal Cigarette Labeling & Advertising Act, the tobacco company said. The suit was brought on behalf of smokers in Minnesota who claimed the lights designation on cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds was misleading.

We obviously are pleased with the decision and believe the court's reasoning should apply to all cases with claims [image-nocss] relating to lights' cigarettes, said Martin L. Holton III, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for litigation for R.J. Reynolds, Winston-Salem, N.C.

In dismissing all of the plaintiff's claims, Judge Diana Eagon concluded: The Labeling Act spells out what health-related language must be on packages of cigarettes, Lights' and regulars, and forbids a state...from imposing further requirements.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) has warned R.J. Reynolds Tobacco that one or more states plan to sue it over its claims that Eclipse cigarettes may present less risk of certain smoking-related diseases than traditional cigarettes, reported the Associated Press.

The notice was sent March 28, but was disclosed only on Monday in a quarterly filing by parent company Reynolds American Inc. with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).

The company said the notice was signed by 40 AGs alleging Reynolds Tobacco has engaged in unfair and deceptive acts and practices by publishing false or misleading claims about its Eclipse brand cigarettes.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was not one of the signatories, a Cooper spokesperson said Wednesday.

Reynolds Tobacco said it can support advertising claims about Eclipse, which primarily heats tobacco rather than burns it. The company said the product, which is five years old, reduces secondhand smoke by 80% and leaves no lingering odor in a person's hair or clothes.

Our claims are substantiated by extensive scientific testing, said Mark Smith, a Reynolds Tobacco spokesperson.

The association offered the cigarette company the chance to meet and discuss their concerns about Eclipse advertising, the filing said. A meeting is scheduled for early next month.

The AGs allege the company has violated the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), under which Reynolds and other major tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 states $206 billion to settle claims against the industry. The companies agreed to advertising and marketing restrictions as part of the deal.

Eclipse has never gained wide acceptance with smokers, said AP. Other cigarette companies have introduced what have been dubbed reduced-risk products, but none of them have caught on with smokers either, it added.