(Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned the makers of Winston, Natural American Spirit and Nat Sherman cigarettes that they cannot claim their products are “natural” or “additive-free” without regulatory approval.
The FDA first gained authority to regulate cigarettes in 2009, partly in reaction to the tobacco industry’s misuse of terms such as “mild” and “light” to suggest those products were less dangerous.
The FDA now requires any company seeking to claim that one tobacco product is less dangerous than another to prove it with scientific evidence. The agency said the products would need to obtain a “modified risk” tobacco product order before they can be described as “natural” and “additive-free.”
“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 tobacco products division, said in a statement.
On Monday roughly 30 health organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Heart Association and the American Thoracic Society wrote to the FDA urging it to take action against Reynolds American Inc and its subsidiary, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co for the marketing of Natural American Spirit cigarettes.
In their letter the anti-tobacco groups noted that sales of Natural American Spirit rose 86 percent between 2009 to 2014 while sales of all cigarettes nationally declined by 17 percent.
“We are pleased that the Food and Drug Administration today has taken action to protect the American public from deception,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Reynolds American and Sherman’s 1400 Broadway NYC Ltd, maker of Nat Sherman cigarettes, said they had received the FDA’s letter but declined to comment further.
ITG Brands, maker of Winston, said in a statement the company disagrees with the FDA and believes its products comply with all state and federal regulations.
“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,” said the company, which is owned by Imperial Tobacco Group Plc. “The statement that FDA objected to currently appears only on the carton of Winston and not on the pack or advertising for the brand.”
Reporting by Toni Clarke in Washington; Additional reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey and Lisa Shumaker