R.J. Reynolds ordered to pay Vt. $8.3 million

Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont judge has ruled that tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds must pay Vermont $8.3 million in penalties for advertising one of its cigarettes as a less risky option than others, the Vermont attorney general's office said.

The attorney general's office has sued the company for advertising its Eclipse cigarettes as a "risk reduction" product. Judge Dennis Pearson ruled in March 2010 that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. had violated consumer protection law and another order by not having adequate scientific studies to back up its advertising claims that Eclipse might reduce smokers' risks of getting cancer.

Pearson ruled Monday that Reynolds should pay civil penalties for the violations. The judge also banned Reynolds from making such a claim without backing it up with sufficient scientific studies.

"This decision is a multi-million-dollar wakeup call for Reynolds and other tobacco companies," Attorney General William Sorrell said. "If you make unsubstantiated health claims about your deadly products, you will pay dearly. Any attempts to advertise alternative tobacco products with deceptive health-benefit claims will not be tolerated."

Bryan Hatchell, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., said the company might appeal the ruling.

"We are disappointed with the judge's ruling and are considering our options in this case including our right to appeal," he said.