Biting the hand that feeds it

Lorillard and Reynolds Sue F.D.A.

Published: February 25, 2011

Two major tobacco companies filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, contending that three members of an advisory committee had conflicts of interest that would taint any recommendations by the panel to the agency.

The committee is considering whether to recommend banning or restricting menthol in cigarettes. It meets next week and again in mid-March to make its recommendation by March 23.

The suit was filed in the United States District Court in Washington by Lorillard and R. J. Reynolds. Lorillard, maker of Newport cigarettes, gets an estimated 90 percent of its revenue from menthol products. R. J. Reynolds, maker of Camel cigarettes, is the nation’s third-biggest tobacco company.

The lawsuit argues that the advisory committee is improperly balanced and influenced by special interests. It contends that three members of the committee ”” Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, Dr. Jack E. Henningfield and Dr. Jonathan M. Samet ”” have received tens of thousands of dollars as expert witnesses in litigation against cigarette makers and as advisers to pharmaceutical companies that make smoking cessation products. They are all university professors, researchers and national experts in the antismoking movement. Dr. Samet is chairman of the panel.

The F.D.A. said it would not comment on pending litigation. Last year, however, agency lawyers rejected a similar complaint from Philip Morris and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Washington nonprofit watchdog group. The F.D.A. said its advisory members would not benefit financially from any decision related to menthol and did not have to ask for agency waivers.

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