Reynolds Gets to Keep ‘Natural’ Brand Name

FDA agreement still cuts other uses in labeling, ads for American Spirit cigarettes

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Reynolds American Inc. will hold onto the Natural American Spirit brand name under its Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. Inc. subsidiary through a recent agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Although the agreement still forces the tobacco manufacturer to remove the terms “natural” and “additive free” as a product description, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds received FDA permission to maintain the term “natural” in its Natural American Spirit brand name, according to documents filed in a New Mexico federal court.

This was not the case for New York-based Nat Sherman, a maker of premium cigars and cigarettes that Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Distribution Co. bought in January. In a settlement with the FDA, Nat Sherman agreed to change the name of its Natural premium cigarettes. It opted to relaunch the cigarettes under a new brand name called Select.

The Reynolds settlement came to light in papers filed in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico on Feb. 23, under a motion to dismiss a number of a civil lawsuits relating to Santa Fe’s use of the terms “natural” and “additive free.” That motion included a copy of the Jan. 19 memorandum of agreement with the FDA.

In the memorandum, Reynolds said it would “remove the phrase[s] ‘Additive Free’ … [and] ‘Natural’ from all Natural American Spirit cigarette product labels, labeling, advertising and promotional materials,” with the caveat that Santa Fe will still be permitted to use the term Natural in the Natural American Spirit brand name.

Reynolds declined comment on the issue.

The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products expects a period of negotiation in which Reynolds will work with the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on acceptable words describing the product. Once these parties reach an agreement, Reynolds will have seven months to make all stated changes.

The document also said Santa Fe “does not admit any liability or wrongdoing.”

Referring to the FDA agreement, at least one anti-tobacco group said the settlement falls short. “Our research shows that a majority of Natural American Spirit smokers incorrectly believe that their cigarettes are safer than other cigarettes, due to its claims of ‘natural’ and ‘organic,’ ” said Robin Koval, president and CEO of the anti-smoking nonprofit Truth Initiative, Washington, D.C., which isn’t involved in the lawsuits. Though the Reynolds agreement with the FDA does not state the word “organic,” Koval said Santa Fe’s “ ‘organic’ claim is perhaps most influential to smokers. This agreement does little to address those widespread and highly dangerous misperceptions.”

In the motion to dismiss the civil actions, the Reynolds document names a litany of precedent and regulation that would make the allegations moot or without standing.

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