Florida lawyers are once again at the forefront of litigation against Big Tobacco, as last week a class action lawsuit against the maker of American Spirit cigarettes, and its parent company, was filed in Federal Court in Miami.
American Spirit cigarettes are made by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC), which is a subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc. (RAI). RAI is also parent company to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
The class action lawsuit alleges that the defendants fraudulently marketed American Spirit cigarettes by using deceptive terms and making claims intended to suggest to consumers that American Spirits are healthier, safer, and present a lower risk of tobacco-related disease than other tobacco products.
The class includes all persons in the United States who purchased American Spirit cigarettes, starting from when they were introduced into the marketplace through August 27, 2015.
Why August 27, 2015?
Because that is the date the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, took the unprecedented step of issuing a warning letter to SFNTC for violations of the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act due to some of the claims that it is making about the American Spirit cigarette.
The Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company was founded in 1982, by an author and an acupuncturist, with the idea, according to one of its founding members, “to produce a natural tobacco product, an unadulterated tobacco product.” Three years later, in 1985, the company introduced its first cigarettes, the Original American Spirit. Along the way, the product name changed from Original American Spirit to Natural American Spirit. And so it would appear that the potential class could include smokers of American Spirit going as far back as the mid-1980s.
In 2002, Reynolds American Inc. purchased the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company.
Throughout the years, marketing and advertising claims by the defendants regarding its product have included “natural,” “additive free,” “100% additive free,” “organic,” “unadulterated tobacco product,” “certified organic tobacco,” and “100% natural.” While the companies would never acknowledge why they use these terms and make these claims in advertising, the intention is obvious: to give consumers the impression that Natural American Spirit cigarettes pose fewer health risks than the “regular” cigarette.
And yet, while “regular” cigarette sales have declined, the sales of Natural American Spirit sales have increased, including a dramatic sales increase of 86% from 2009 – 2014, making American Spirits one of the top 10 best-selling cigarette brands. Maybe this explosion in sales is just a pure coincidence, and that it is blind luck for SFNTC and Reynolds. Or maybe it has something to do with the impact that the no-doubt carefully selected and focus-grouped buzz words like “natural” and “organic” have on today’s consumers; buzz words that, according to the FDA, might not be accurate. Or said another way: intentionally deceptive and fraudulent.