Reynolds, Imperial Get FDA Warnings for ‘Natural’ Labels

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned three tobacco companies that they need to prove cigarettes they’ve labeled as “natural” or “additive-free” are less harmful in order to keep marketing them that way.

Imperial Tobacco Group’s Winston, Reynolds American Inc.’s Natural American Spirit, and the Nat Sherman brand, owned by Sherman’s 1400 Broadway NYC Ltd., all need to apply to be designated as so-called modified risk tobacco products if they’re going to keep describing them as “natural” or “additive-free,” the agency said Thursday in a letter. The application process includes submitting scientific evidence showing that the products are less hazardous than other cigarettes.

“The FDA’s job is to ensure tobacco products are not marketed in a way that leads consumers to believe cigarettes with descriptors like ‘additive-free’ and ‘natural’ pose fewer health risks than other cigarettes, unless the claims have been scientifically supported,” Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a statement.

Winston cigarettes are labeled “additive-free,” and Nat Sherman cigarettes are labeled “natural,” while Natural American Spirit claims both designations, the FDA said.

Fifteen Days

The companies have 15 business days to respond to the letters with plans to remedy the violations.

“We have received the letter from the Center for Tobacco Products, and we are reviewing it,” Maura Payne, a spokeswoman for Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds, wrote in an e-mail.

Although Imperial disagrees with the FDA’s position, it will work with the FDA and respond to the warning letter, the company said in an e-mailed statement. Imperial acquired Winston earlier this year to help allay antitrust concerns stemming from the merger of Reynolds and Lorillard Inc.

“Winston has been marketed with its current packaging for more than 15 years and in compliance with an agreement entered into with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission,” the company said. “The statement that FDA objected to currently appears only on the carton of Winston and not on the pack or advertising for the brand.”

Margery Kessler, a spokeswoman for Nat Sherman, declined to comment.

Anti-smoking advocates cheered the FDA’s action.

“There is no question that terms such as ‘additive-free’ and ‘natural’ imply a safer cigarette, as confirmed by consumer research and the industry’s own documents,” Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement. “The FDA’s warning sends a strong message to the tobacco industry that its long history of deception about the dangers of tobacco use will no longer be tolerated.”

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