| NEW YORK, July 21
NEW YORK, July 21 A federal judge ruled on
Monday in favor of two tobacco companies that challenged a 2011
U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee report on menthol
cigarettes, finding three of the panel's members had conflicts
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the FDA
reconstitute the committee and barred the agency from using the
panel's findings, which said removing menthol cigarettes from
the market would benefit public health.
Lorillard Inc and Reynolds American Inc's
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co unit filed the lawsuit in 2011 arguing
the panel's members were biased against the industry. Three of
the panel's expert doctors had worked for lawyers suing tobacco
manufacturers, the opinion said. There were eight voting members
serving on the committee at the time the lawsuit was filed,
according to the original complaint.
"The presence of conflicted members on the Committee
irrevocably tainted its very composition and its work product,"
Leon wrote in ruling filed at the U.S. District Court in
He called the panel's findings and recommendations "at a
minimum suspect, and, at worst, untrustworthy."
Leon has sided with the tobacco companies in the past. In
February 2012, he struck down the FDA's requirement that
cigarette packaging carry large, graphic warnings about the
dangers of smoking.
In March 2013 the FDA gave up trying to require such
warnings, showing rotting teeth, diseased lungs and other
Reynolds American has proposed a $25 billion acquisition of
smaller rival Lorillard Inc in a move that signals the industry
is betting on the continued growth of menthol sales. Lorillard
makes the Newport brand of mentholated cigarettes.
The companies were not immediately available to comment on
the ruling. FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said the agency did
not yet have a comment.
The case is Lorillard Inc et al v. United States Food And
Drug Administration et al, in the U.S. District Court District
of Columbia, No. 1:11-cv-00440-RJL
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Mohammad