On Friday, two of the nation’s three largest tobacco companies filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Food and Drug Administration and its commissioner, the Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, and the director of the federal Center for Tobacco Products. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin these federal authorities from relying on any recommendations or advice from the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) regarding the public health impact of menthol cigarettes and other tobacco matters. TPSAC is set to issue a report on these topics on March 23.
In their complaint, Lorillard and R.J. Reynolds allege that the TPSAC violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act’s mandate that federal advisory committees be “fairly balanced” and their members not be “inappropriately influenced . . . by any special interest.” Specifically, Lorillard and Reynolds claim that three of the eight TPSAC voting members – including the chairman – and two TPSAC subcommittee members “have severe financial and appearance conflicts of interest and associated biases” due to their having served as paid expert witnesses in lawsuits against tobacco product manufacturers. The lawsuit alleges that the three TPSAC voting members are further biased because of their continuing employment as consultants for pharmaceutical companies that create nicotine-replacement-therapy products.
Lorillard has a keen interest in any TPSAC recommendation about the public health impact of menthol cigarettes and whether these cigarettes should be banned. Lorillard manufactures the leading menthol brand, Newport, and derives approximately 90% of its sales from this product. Reynolds sells the popular Kool menthol brand and a menthol version of its Camel product.