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Altria Challenges FDA's Ban on 'Mild' Cigars

RICHMOND, Va. — The Altria Group Inc. filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) latest regulation prohibiting the use of the term "mild" in tobacco products.

Included in the final deeming rule, which was released by the FDA earlier this month, is a requirement that manufacturers, importers and/or retailers cannot sell modified risk tobacco products — including those described as "light," "low" or "mild" — unless authorized by the agency.

The deeming rule gives the FDA the authority to regulate newly deemed tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah and pipe tobacco. The rule goes into effect Aug 8. As a result, any product using the descriptions "light," "low" or "mild" will not be allowed to stay on the market unless the agency has authorized it as a modified risk tobacco product.

Altria's operating company John Middleton Co.'s product lineup include the Black & Mild cigar brand.

In a civil complaint filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Altria argued the use of the word "mild" in Black & Mild doesn't convey anything about health, risk or safety. Rather, the term describes "taste and body," according to The Wall Street Journal.

Richmond-based Altria said the agency's rule violates the First Amendment that protects trademarks and brand names, in addition to the Fifth Amendment that prohibits taking private property for public use without compensation, the report added.

The FDA declined to comment to WSJ on the lawsuit, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

The ban on the use of the terms "light," "low" and "mild" has applied to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own products and smokeless tobacco since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law in 2009.

According the news report, Altria said it paid $2.9 billion in 2007 to acquire John Middleton Co.'s cigar and pipe business, including the Black & Mild brand. It added the brand name has been in use for more than 40 years.

Altria Group Inc. is the parent company for Philip Morris USA, John Middleton, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., Nu Mark and Ste. Michele Wine Estates. Altria also holds a continuing economic and voting interest in SABMiller. 

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