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A Boost for Snus or the Straw That Breaks the Camel's Back?

Tobacco giant Reynolds American is seizing upon New York City's new anti-smoking law to promote its small, but growing Camel Snus brand with print advertisements in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Daily News, and a handful of other publications.

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With the new lawthat went into effect Monday, smokers in New York are prohibited from smoking in 1,700 city parks, along 14 miles of public beaches and in other public areas such as pedestrian malls. This is in addition to prior laws that have banned smoking from bars, restaurants, and other workplaces.

It will be interesting to see if New York's more restrictive limits on smoking become a catalyst for tobacco users to get behind snus, a type of spitless oral tobacco that comes in little pouches, or if it provides a greater incentive for tobacco users to kick the habit.

Certainly, public health officials are hoping that the latter occurs. But barring that outcome, the public health community remains divided over whether it is better for smokers to switch to snus from cigarettes.

Some public health officials argue that for those who are unable to quit smoking, products like snus reduce the tobacco-related harm they experience. Others say these products flat-out discourage smokers from making an attempt to quit.

Reynolds and its larger rival Altria Group , the parent of Philip Morris USA, have been waging a fierce war for market share as rates of cigarette consumption continue to decline.

Although both companies own snus brands, Reynolds is testing the boundaries by encouraging smokers to switch to snus in these national ads, which are Reynolds' first newspaper or magazine ads in more than three years.

It's important to note that Reynolds does not make any health claims in the ads about snus being safer than cigarettes, although some studies have suggested this. But anti-smoking advocates are not pleased with the advertising, nonetheless.

Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the Winston-Salem Journal that the ads "continue Reynolds' irresponsible marketing of snus as a way for smokers to get their nicotine fix in the growing number of smoke-free places."

"The goal is to discourage smokers from taking the one step that would truly protect their health, which is to quit entirely. Once again, Reynolds is putting its bottom line ahead of public health," Willmore continued, in the report.

In past, manufacturers of smokeless tobacco have made a case for smokers to switch to snus from cigarettes, but these efforts have not encouraged widespread adoption of snus in the US.

But times are changing, and in places like New York City, it is becoming more difficult to smoke. The city is now considered to have one of the largest outdoor smoking bans in the country. And other cities are watching how things develop.

In addition to legislation that bans smoking in public places, some smoking bans are hitting closer to home—literally, as apartment complexes and condomiums are increasingly putting smoking restrictions into place for their residents.

One of the Reynolds' ads depicts the Empire State Building and it had the tagline: "NYC Smokers: Rise above the ban." The other says "NYC Smokers: Enjoy freedom without the flame." Both also include health warnings.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

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