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Tobacco Giant R.J. Reynolds Held Accountable For Misleading Ads

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-3175

March 11, 2010

In a case of national importance, Vermont Superior Court Judge Dennis Pearson found that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s advertising claims of a “reduced risk” cigarette were deceptive and misleading, in violation of Vermont’s Consumer Fraud Act and a 1998 settlement agreement and court order.

“This is a huge decision with national implications and Vermont has once again led the way,” said Attorney General William H. Sorrell. “The Court has ruled that companies cannot make health claims about their products unless they have the proof to back them up,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “This decision also shows that the tobacco industry has to live up to the promises they made in the 1998 nationwide settlement.”

RJR marketed a non-traditional cigarette, known as Eclipse, through print and internet ads between 2000 and 2007. In his ruling, Judge Pearson found that RJR ads conveyed the impression that Eclipse cigarettes “would reduce any given smoker’s chance of developing cancer,” and that RJR did not have the scientific studies to support that claim. He also found that RJR knew that the ads would convince consumers that there would be health benefits if they switched to Eclipse. The consequences for RJR’s violations will be determined at a later time.

“We applaud the court’s decision which requires rigorous scientific evidence before tobacco companies can claim that any of their products are less dangerous,” said Cheryl G. Healton, of Legacy. “We are proud of our former Board Chair, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, for bringing this action to protect the health of Vermont citizens and which we expect will be persuasive in the courts of other states as well.”

The decision follows a 5-week trial that was conducted by then-Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill and Special Assistant Attorney General Barney Brannen, with support from the Tobacco Project of the National Association of Attorneys General.

“This is a groundbreaking ruling that sets a precedent for stopping the tobacco industry from making deceptive and misleading health claims,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free-Kids. “The tobacco companies have a long history of making such claims in their efforts to addict new smokers and discourage current smokers from quitting. We applaud the State of Vermont for pursuing this very important case to protect public health.”

The court’s decision can be found at the following link:

  Website consulting provided by The National Association of Attorneys General.