Thought false advertising suits against cigarette companies were a thing of the past? Think again.
Multiple class actions alleging that tobacco companies deceive consumers by failing to warn about the dangers of electronic cigarettes have already been filed, with more suits likely to follow. Most recently, Jerod Harris filed a complaint in California federal court against R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, claiming that the defendant marketed its Vuse electronic cigarettes in a deceptive manner by failing to inform consumers about the potential health problems associated with the product, which contains carcinogens.
“Consumers of [Vuse electronic cigarettes] are exposed to significant amounts of harmful carcinogens when using the Products as directed,” Harris claimed. “Yet, Defendant not only fails to warn consumers of such cancer-causing chemicals, but it utterly fails to disclose the presence of such chemicals.”
Such material omissions in the face of a duty to disclose ran afoul of California’s Unfair Competition Law and Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the complaint alleged.
Harris’s suit tracked the rise of e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated devices typically designed to resemble a tobacco cigarette. “As a result of aggressive and unrestricted marketing, increased restrictions on the use of traditional cigarettes, and a perception that the e-cigarettes are ‘healthy’ alternatives to traditional smoking, e-cigarette use has exploded since their introduction in the U.S. in 2007,” he claimed.
Studies have revealed the dangers of electronic cigarettes, the complaint alleged: the aerosol inhaled by users of e-cigarettes contains toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, as well as high concentrations of ultrafine particles that are trapped in the lungs and travel through the circulatory system, thereby affecting the brain and all organs. “Recent independent testing of Defendant’s e-cigarettes revealed the presence of significant amounts of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in the aerosol produced by the Products,” Harris said in his suit.
The California federal court complaint seeks to certify a class of Vuse purchasers dating back to July 1, 2013, and requests restitution, statutory and punitive damages, and an order enjoining the allegedly unlawful and deceptive acts and practices of the defendant.
Harris’s suit was filed just one week after a nearly identical complaint was filed by Michael J. Whitney against ITG Brands, the maker of Blu electronic cigarettes. “Plaintiff and the other members of the Class were unquestionably deceived regarding the safety and health benefits of the Products, as Defendants’ marketing, advertising, packaging, and labeling of the Products misrepresent and omit the true facts about the Products,” Whitney alleged in his California federal court complaint.
To read the complaint in Harris v. R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, click here.
To read the complaint in Whitney v. ITG Brands, click here.
Why it matters: The complaints could signal a revival of false advertising litigation against cigarette companies. Both plaintiffs argue that the defendants play up their products as a healthy substitute to traditional cigarettes and are able to deceive consumers in part because the advertising of the new products is not regulated like for tobacco cigarettes. The cigarette companies have not responded to the new suits, but will likely employ their usual aggressive litigation defense.