R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its ads for Winston "no additives"cigarettes are deceptive. The agency alleged that Reynolds implied in its advertisements, without a reasonable basis, that Winston cigarettes are safer to smoke because they contain no additives. Under the settlement, which the FTC has accepted for public comment, Reynolds has agreed to make the following prominent disclosure in future Winston ads: "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette."
According to the FTC's Director of Consumer Protection Jodie Bernstein, "Reynolds' disclosure should clear up any misconception that cigarettes without additives are safer to smoke than other cigarettes. Frankly, there's no such thing as a 'Safe Smoke.'"
The use of ingredients other than tobacco in the manufacture of cigarettes has been a matter of some concern for a number of years, the FTC said. While some additives are used to affect the taste of the cigarette, others are thought to affect the physical properties of the cigarette, such as its burn rate.
According to the FTC's complaint outlining the charges, Reynolds represented that because they contain no additives, Winston cigarettes are less hazardous than otherwise comparable cigarettes that contain additives. The complaint alleges that Reynolds did not have a reasonable basis for the representations at the time they were made. Among other reasons, the agency alleged, the smoke from Winston cigarettes, like the smoke from all cigarettes, contains numerous carcinogens and toxins.
The proposed settlement would require Reynolds to include a disclosure in most advertising for Winston or any other tobacco products Reynolds advertises as having no additives. According to the proposed order, the disclosure must be included in all advertising for Winston no-additive cigarettes, regardless of whether that advertising contains a "no additives" claim, for a period of one year beginning no later than July 15, 1999. Thereafter, the disclosure must be included in all Winston advertising that represents (through such phrases as "no additives" or "100% tobacco") that the product has no additives. The disclosure is not required if Reynolds has scientific evidence demonstrating that its "no additives" cigarette poses materially lower health risks than other cigarettes.
The proposed settlement requires that the disclosure must be placed in a rectangular box 40 percent of the size of the Surgeon General's warning, in a clear and prominent location. Reynolds also would have to instruct each of its sales representatives to remove or sticker, with the applicable disclosure, any advertisement displayed in a retail establishment representing that Winston cigarettes have no additives.
In 1984, Congress amended the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act to require cigarette manufacturers to submit to the Secretary of Health and Human Services a list of all ingredients added to the cigarettes they manufacture. The Secretary is required to keep this information confidential, but to report to Congress information about any ingredient that the Secretary believes to pose a health risk to smokers.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 4-0 with Commissioner Orson Swindle issuing the following concurring statement: "I have voted to accept this consent agreement for public comment because the remedies, including a corrective statement in Winston advertisements for one year, are warranted by the facts of this case. The nationwide advertising campaign for "no additives" Winston cigarettes, launched in August 1997, is unusually extensive. Based on my reading of the record, I am convinced that many consumers interpret ads containing express "no additives" claims to mean that Winston's are not as harmful as other cigarettes, and such a health claim is presumably important to consumers in their purchasing decisions. Based on the extent and magnitude of the ongoing ad campaign and the demonstrated strength of the implied health claim, I am willing to infer that the claim will linger in the minds of consumers for one year absent a corrective statement. I am particularly concerned about a lingering effect of the ads because of the well-recognized health risks of smoking. Under these circumstances, I support the corrective advertising remedy contained in the proposed consent order."
The proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the complaint, proposed consent order, and an analysis of the proposed consent order to aid public comment are available from the FTC's web site at: http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. Consent agreements subject to public comment also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. 9923025)