R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company joined Commonwealth Brands Inc., Lorillard Inc., National Tobacco Company L.P. and Discount Tobacco City & Lottery Inc. in filing a lawsuit Monday to protect their First Amendment right to communicate with adult tobacco consumers about their products, Reuters reported.
The suit was filed in federal court in Bowling Green, Ky., to block marketing restrictions that would be put in place under the law that gives the FDA authority over tobacco regulation, claiming the provisions violate the first amendment right to free speech.
This is the first major challenge of the The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was passed in June.
“We believe that many of the provisions within the Act violate our constitutional rights and are not reasonably related to the goal of reducing youth access to tobacco products,” Jonathan Cox, president and chief executive of Commonwealth Brands said in a statement.
The companies said in their lawsuit that the law, which takes full effect in three years, prohibits them from using color lettering, trademarks, logos or any other imagery in most advertisements, including virtually all point-of-sale and direct-mail advertisements, the Miami Herald reported. The complaint also said the law prohibits tobacco companies from “making truthful statements about their products in scientific, public policy and political debates.”
The new mandated health warnings on cigarette packs would limit the companies’ branding to the bottom half of the cigarette packaging, making it “difficult, if not impossible, to see,” the companies noted.
However, the companies are only challenging portions of the bill. They want the marketing portion of the bill stripped, but are not challenging the FDA’s new position as tobacco regulator.
“This suit does not challenge Congress’ decision to give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products, nor does it challenge the vast majority of the provisions of the new law,” said Martin Holton III, senior vice president and general counsel for R.J. Reynolds. “However, the law contains provisions that severely restrict the few remaining channels we have to communicate with adult tobacco consumers and, in our opinion, cannot be justified on any basis consistent with the demands of the First Amendment.”
Holton added, “The law also contains provisions that chill our ability to participate in the broader public policy dialogue over the future of tobacco products in this country. Reynolds believes that governments, public health officials, tobacco manufacturers and others can and should play a role in providing adult tobacco consumers with accurate information about the various health risks and comparative risks associated with the use of different tobacco and nicotine products. This suit seeks to confirm that Reynolds’ ability to participate in that important dialogue has not been shut down.”
According to R.J. Reynolds, it is ready to work with the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products to affect an “overall regulatory structure that has the potential to improve public health and is practical in its application, given that more than 40 million adult Americans consume tobacco products,” Holton said.
The tobacco makers name the FDA, the government and individual officials as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks to put portions of the law on hold while the case is heard, the Miami Herald reported.