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Vermont Files Suit Over Eclipse Ads

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WASHINGTON Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell filed suit today against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, alleging its advertising for Eclipse cigarettes makes false and misleading health claims by stating that smoking the brand is less harmful.

"We encourage the tobacco companies to develop less harmful tobacco products, but until they do—and until they can scientifically demonstrate that new cigarette designs will reduce the risks of smoking—we cannot tolerate misleading health claims about any cigarette product," Sorrell said.

The suit argues that the ads falsely claim "scientific studies show that, compared to other cigarettes, Eclipse may present less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and possibly emphysema." Misleading text in the ads, according to the lawsuit, include lines such as "Eclipse responds to concerns about certain smoking-related illnesses, including cancer" and "The best choice for smokers who worry about their health is to quit. The next best choice is Eclipse."

Sorrell also said in the lawsuit that the ads violate the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between Big Tobacco and 46 states by making misrepresentations about the health consequences of using a particular tobacco product.

R.J. Reynolds pulled the campaign last year, but continued to use the health claims until this spring and plans to bring back the campaign "when we win this case," a company representative said.

"We will defend the claims," the rep added. "This is a very factual type of advertising."

The Russell Agency in Winston-Salem, N.C., created the campaign. Betsy Hamilton, president of the independent shop, declined comment. The agency has worked with the brand for several years and remains one of the company's roster shops.

Vermont is the first state to file suit against RJR over the Eclipse brand, but California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, New York and Tennessee participated in the investigation which led to the lawsuit.

Last March, the attorneys general from 37 states sent RJR a letter saying they intended to sue if the company did not stop its advertising for Eclipse.

R.J. Reynolds spent $7 million on Eclipse ads last year, though there is no measured media spending on the brand through May 2005, per TNS Media Intelligence.

—with Jim Lovel