Walgreen Co. gives the impression that Marlboro menthol cigarettes are just like any other cigarettes and doesn’t warn consumers that the menthol makes them “far more dangerous and addictive” than other tobacco products, according to a proposed class action filed in Florida federal court.
Plaintiff Fernanda Price said that adding menthol to tobacco products covers up unpleasant flavors and increases their appeal, fueling addiction among children and young adults, and yet Walgreens doesn’t provide any warning about the increased health risks of menthol cigarettes.
Tobacco products with menthol can also be harder to quit because they can enhance the effects of nicotine, with studies suggesting that banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit and 633,000 fewer deaths.
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which authorized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products and prohibited all flavors in cigarettes. The law didn’t ban menthol, but Congress still recognized that the ingredient could pose unique health risks in cigarettes.
The FDA in 2010 then organized a Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee, which found, among other things, that menthol produces a number of sensory effects, including reducing the irritating effects of tar and nicotine, making those cigarettes more palatable.
The committee’s report concluded that adding menthol to cigarettes increased addiction in young smokers, increased the rate of regular smoking and resulted in a lower success rate for African Americans trying to quit smoking.
The FDA announced a plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, citing the flavoring’s outsize impact on minorities.
But despite these alarming findings, Walgreens didn’t tell its customers about the dangers of the menthol cigarettes on its shelves.. Price, who has bought menthol cigarettes from Walgreens for several years and believed she was buying ordinary cigarettes, said she wouldn’t have bought them if she’d known about the risks.
Price said she read and relied on the packages and advertising for the menthol cigarettes that misrepresented them as typical cigarettes that were no more dangerous than any other. She said Walgreens should not be allowed to sell menthol cigarettes or, at the least, should provide a warning that they pose an increased risk.
Price wants to represent a nationwide class of people who have bought menthol cigarettes from Walgreens over the past four years.
The suit claims a violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, negligent misrepresentation and breach of implied warranty. It seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits, damages and attorney fees, among other things.