Lorillard Inc and Reynolds American Inc’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co unit filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration based on “conflicts of interest and bias among members” of the FDA advisory panel, which is researching the possible ban.
The lawsuit accuses three tobacco advisory panel members of having “severe financial and appearance conflicts of interest and associated biases,” based on the allegation that the advisers received funding for research or work from smoking-cessation product manufacturers.
Two others panelists on a subcommittee also have biases, according to the suit, because they previously served as paid expert witnesses in lawsuits against tobacco companies.
“There will be no way for the defendants or the public to have confidence that the Committee’s report and recommendations with respect to menthol are the product of an unbiased assessment of the relevant science, uninfluenced by special interests and by the prospect of financial gains,” according to the suit.
A 2009 law gave the FDA regulatory power over tobacco products and specifically banned chocolate, fruit and other flavors noted to entice children.
The FDA can regulate what goes into tobacco products and require that the ingredients be published and available to the public. They can also limit how the product is marketed, especially towards children and young adults.
The legislation called on the FDA to get advice from a panel of experts before determining whether the mint-flavored cigarettes should be taken off the US market. Advisers are expected to deliver their final report on March 23. The FDA is not required to follow the advice of the panel, but has often followed expert opinions in the past.
Health advocates called the lawsuit by the tobacco companies a frivolous attempt to keep the FDA panel’s recommendation from reaching the public eye.
“They fear that the committee, having examined the evidence, will recommend effective actions that reduce or eliminate the lucrative market for menthol cigarettes, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Once again, they are putting profits ahead of lives and health.”
Mentholated cigarettes make up roughly 30 percent of U.S. annual cigarette sales of more than $83 billion, according to Euromonitor International.
Lorillard holds about 35 percent of the US menthol market with Newport, its top-selling brand. R.J. Reynolds and its parent company, Reynolds American Inc. sells brands Kool, Camel and Pall Mall, among others.
Both companies, as well as Altria Group Inc’s Philip Morris, which does not have a part in the lawsuit, have spoken out against a menthol ban since meetings regarding the topic began last year. The advisers are scheduled to meet on March 2 and March 17 ahead of issuing its report.
FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura said. “As a matter of general policy, the FDA does not comment on possible, pending or ongoing litigation.”
By Laura Phillips