U.S. tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. sued federal health regulators Thursday in a bid to keep using the Black & Mild brand name for its popular cigars.
The Federal Drug Administration expanded its oversight of tobacco products earlier this month, including implementing a new rule banning the use of "mild" for cigars because the term suggests such products are safer than others.
In a civil complaint filed with United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Altria argued the use of the word "mild'" in Black & Mild doesn't convey anything about health, risk or safety. Rather, the term describes "taste and body."
Altria says the FDA rule violates the First Amendment that protects trademarks and brand names, in addition to the Fifth Amendment that prohibits taking private property for public use without compensation.
The FDA declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
Tobacco companies already are banned from using the terms "mild," "light" and "low" to market cigarettes. That includes Marlboro, the top-selling U.S. cigarette brand owned by Altria.
Altria says it paid $2.9 billion in 2007 to acquire John Middleton Co.'s cigar and pipe business, including the Black & Mild brand. It says the brand name has been in use for more than 40 years.
Altria controls roughly half of the U.S. tobacco market. It sold 1.3 billion Black & Mild cigars last year.
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