Would You Snuff Out Your Cigarette for a "Snus"?
All three companies have been trying to spread the word about the new products through Web sites dedicated to the products and direct mail campaigns targeted to their extensive databases of smokers. Although both Marlboro and Camel are well-known brands, Philip Morris clearly has the numbers on its side. Close to half of all U.S. smokers, smoke Marlboros, while only about 7% of U.S. smokers puff on a Camel.
Reynolds is taking its marketing of Camel Snus a few steps further. The Winston-Salem, N.C., company is using newspaper advertising, which in the age of tight advertising restrictions on tobacco, is seen as a bold move. Reynolds also is sampling Camel Snus in age-restricted venues such as bars.
Greg Connolly, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, said he sees the launch of the snus products as a “major public health concern.”
Connolly is especially critical of sampling programs Reynolds has hosted near college campuses in Columbus, Ohio. He sees these programs as a way to recruit younger smokers and support the Camel brand.
“This is the old college marketing program all over again,” he said. “Is their intent to instruct on snus or is it really an opportunity to push Camel cigarettes?” he asked.
According to Connolly, an agency such as the Food and Drug Administration should be overseeing the introduction of these products and examining what the intention of their marketing is.
“Without it, all we can do is think the worst,” he said.
Nicotine Levels Vary
One question on Connolly’s mind is: why are the companies are selling various flavors of snus products at varying levels of nicotine. He said he suspects the companies are testing to see which levels of nicotine are most effective in keeping dual-users hooked.
Philip Morris spokesman David Sylvia said the differences in the nicotine levels “are not significant.”
The variance in the levels, which are disclosed on Philip Morris’ Web site, are a result of the manufacturing process needed to make the various tobacco flavors, Sylvia said.
According to the Web site, Marlboro snus comes in four flavors: rich, mild, mint, and spice. The mild flavor contains the lowest level of nicotine with 14.30 micrograms per gram of tobacco product, while Marlboro Snus Spice contains 17.49 micrograms on a comparable basis.
Although the products remain in just a few test markets, tobacco industry analysts suspect it would be fairly easy for the companies to broaden distribution if the companies chose to do so.
The test markets give the companies time to tinker with the design and marketing message. For example, R.J. Reynolds changed the shape of their tin from a round shape to an oval shape. They felt the round shape caused confusion because it seemed too similar to the moist smokeless tobacco products.
What is going unspoken in this effort is that oral tobacco products have relatively less of a stigma attached to them because they have a lower risk of cancers associated with them. Since the products are not ignited, many of the disease-causing toxins associated with smoking are not present.
The tobacco companies consistently say they have no plans to promote the notion that smokeless tobacco products are healthier than U.S. products in their marketing. However, many people do consider oral tobacco products to be less dangerous than cigarettes because many of the disease-causing toxins associated with smoking are created when tobacco is burned.
There are epidemiological studies that support this idea based on the experience in Sweden, where men use snus more than cigarettes. This behavior has resulted in lower levels of tobacco-related diseases.
But the tobacco companies are not making these claims. Instead they are sticking with the warnings which include one that says: “This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.”