American Brands Inc. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.(False Ads, US Dist. Ct. S. NY 1976 Pltf's Decision) Citation: 413 F.Supp. 1352 (2 Jun 1976)
This false advertising suit was brought by American Brands, Inc. against R.J. Reynolds and LKP International on February 17, 1976.
The plaintiff challenged the defendant's claim that NOW (2 mg) had the lowest tar level available. It alleged that it had a very limited distribution of Carleton 70's (1 mg tar) that was lower in tar and nicotine. After the inception of the lawsuit, the defendant changed its advertising to say "NOW 2mg 'tar' is the lowest (king size or longer)". The plaintiff amended the complaint to include this advertisement, but did not change the claims. The plaintiff claimed violations of the Lanham Act and state law. The plaintiff sought an injunction prohibiting the defendant from continuing to use the incorrect information in advertising.
The defendant counter-claimed that the plaintiff's advertising was false and misleading. The plaintiffs allegedly stated that CARLTON was the "fastest growing of the top 25" brands, because it uses the 2mg brand interchangeably with the predecessor 4mg cigarette. The plaintiffs also used angled photographs to downplay the fact that the new CARLTON 2mg was shorter than the average cigarette.
The case was heard in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York (76 Civ 762 (MEL)), before the Honorable Judge Lasker. On June 2, 1976, following a bench trial, the judge granted in part and dismissed the remainder of the plaintiff's prayer for injunctive relief. He held that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the defendant's advertisements were misleading or deceptive. Both the claim and the counter-claim failed to show determinative reactions of consumers to the advertisements. CARLTON was not entitled to protection until its distribution created a level of viability in the marketplace. The defendant was enjoined to eliminate all out-of-home advertisements or point-of-purchase material containing the message "Now. The lowest 'tar' of all cigarettes". The defendant, on its cross-claim, failed to show that there was sufficient difference between CARTON 2mg and 4mg cigarettes to require they be counted as separate brands. MORE cigarettes could not be compared to CARLTON as far as growth was concerned because MORE cigarettes were in their first year, and still establishing a dependable annual rate. The defendant's counterclaim was dismissed.