Class-action lawsuit planned against American Spirit cigarettes

American Spirit

This story is actually a few weeks old, but I just now heard of it. I found out about it while arguing with someone who claims that American Spirit cigarettes are better for you than other brands (The FDA has warned American Spirit to stop with its “natural” and “additive-free” advertising.

Anyway, a class-action lawsuit being planned in Florida intends to take bolder action than the FDA. From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

A Florida law firm this week filed the first attempt at a class-action lawsuit against the Santa Fe-based company and its parent, Reynolds American Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C., claiming the cigarette maker’s packaging and advertising are intended to mislead smokers into thinking American Spirit cigarettes are healthier than other tobacco products.

The FDA last August warned American Spirit to drop its advertising of being “organic” and “additive-free.” Now, since then, I’ve seen American Spirit ads in Sports Illustrated that still say “organic” and “additive-free,” however, I see in this story an explanation. The FDA told American Spirit to come up with a plan for “corrective actions.” So, even though they’ve been given a stern warning by the Feds, American Spirit has continued with its dubious marketing.

From the Santa Fe New Mexican:

The lawsuit filed (in October 2015) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida by Justin Sproule notes that American Spirit sales increased by 86 percent from 2009 to 2014, as compared to an overall 17 percent decline in cigarette sales in the United States during the same period. Just this week, Reynolds American announced that it had agreed to sell the international rights to the brand to Japanese buyers for $5 billion.

The complaint seeks damages on behalf of Sproule and others who “smoke American Spirits because they have been deceived by claims, labels and advertising into regarding them as safer than other cigarettes.”

Descriptions such as “additive-free,” “natural” and “organic,” the lawsuit says, “are patently deceptive, especially in today’s market, where these terms have a potent meaning for the health-and-environmentally-conscious consumer.”

The company also exploits its marketing message in other ways, the complaint says, by selling its cigarettes in health food stores. “And it accompanies its cigarettes with literature from ‘America’s leading natural foods teacher’ who claims that the cigarettes are medicinal and that Native Americans smoke such additive free cigarettes without developing cancer.”

I think it’s also interesting that the lawsuit is being filed in Florida. Florida has become a very unfriendly place for the tobacco industry. Many years ago, in what’s known as the Engle Case, the tobacco industry lost a massive $145 billion class-action lawsuit in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court threw that settlement out, saying the case couldn’t be decided on a class-action basis and that each victim (or victim’s family) that was sickened or killed by tobacco had to file their suits individually.

Since then, partly because of the way the Supreme Court ruling was written, which essentially said the plaintiffs were right, they just couldn’t sue on a class-action basis, there’s been a veritable cottage industry of lawsuits against the tobacco industry in Flordia. Several thousand lawsuits, in fact, and the majority of those cases that have been decided have been decided in favour of the plaintiffs. Hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements have been paid out and hundreds of millions more of settlements are still caught up in the appeals process.

I think because of this, a lot of attorneys who specialize in litigation against the tobacco industry have migrated to Florida. That’s where the action is, so to speak. So that doesn’t surprise me this class-action suit against American Spirit is coming out of Florida.