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Philip Morris to Sell Clove Cigarettes in Asia

Philip Morris International launched a Marlboro cigarette flavored with cloves in Indonesia on Tuesday, seeking to boost sales in one of the world’s largest tobacco markets as smokers in Europe and the United States give up the habit.

The company, a unit of New York-based Altria Group , last year bought a controlling stake in local cigarette manufacturer Sampoerna for $5.2 billion, the largest takeover deal ever by a foreign investor in Indonesia.

Almost two-thirds of adult males in this country of 230 million people smoke and growing numbers of females are joining them, analysts say.

Ninety percent of smokers choose cigarettes blended with cloves called kretek. Their distinctive sweet aroma is ever-present in cafes, offices and public spaces across the country.

Philip Morris’ move shows the importance of Indonesia and other overseas markets to the company as government bans and increased awareness of the health risks of smoking have hit sales in the United States and Europe.

“A Marlboro kretek makes sense,” Martin King, Sampoerna’s president director, told The Associated Press in an interview. “What consumers are telling us is that they like Marlboro, they like the brand, but they also want kretek.”

The Marlboro Mix 9 is the strongest Marlboro currently on the market, packing 1.8 milligrams of nicotine and 30 milligrams of tar. That is comparable to other full-strength kretek on sale in Indonesia, but twice as much as regular Marlboros on sale elsewhere in the world, King said.

King said that no cigarettes were safe, but that there was no evidence kretek were more dangerous than regular cigarettes.

The eugenol in cloves causes a numbing of the throat in smokers, making harsh tobacco smoke easier to swallow. They are normally sold in packs of 12 and take much longer to smoke than ordinary cigarettes.

King said he was confident Mix 9 would sell well, but noted that competition in Indonesia’s kretek sector was intense. Last year, some 500 new brands were launched in the country, he said.

Indonesia is the fifth-largest tobacco market behind China, the United States, Russia and Japan.