The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued 11 warning letters to online retailers for illegally marketing tobacco products with misleading or unsubstantiated claims or descriptors, including that they can be used to reduce the harm or the risk of tobacco-related disease.

“There is no known safe tobacco product. It is illegal for tobacco companies or retailers, including internet sellers, to make unsubstantiated claims or statements that imply tobacco products reduce health risks,” said Lawrence R. Deyton, MSPH, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “FDA will pursue enforcement actions to protect the public health.”

The FDA cited the online retailers for a variety of illegal marketing claims that violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, including the use of the terms light, low, mild, less toxic, or safer. A company is not permitted to use these terms unless it has received an order from the FDA allowing it to market a product with these claims based on scientific evidence. The agency has issued no such orders to date.

In the past, some tobacco products were marketed with descriptors that indicated they were safer or had a modified risk. Those products were never proven to reduce health risk. Those deceptive marketing practices may actually have led to continued or increased tobacco use and harm to consumers who incorrectly thought they were using a product that might be less risky. This kind of marketing is now illegal under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

In addition to the marketing violations, the FDA also cited companies for the illegal sale of flavored cigarettes.

The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products conducts routine monitoring and surveillance of tobacco product marketing, advertising, and promotion to assess compliance with the law. The agency will consider additional sanctions for failure to correct the violations cited in warning letters, which may include civil money penalties, no-tobacco-sale orders, seizure, injunction and/or criminal prosecution.

Source: US Food and Drug Administration