Commentary

Reynolds Suggests Snusing As Tobacco Ban Takes Effect

The Wall Street Journal 's David Kesmodel writes that R.J. Reynolds is "seizing on new antismoking laws in New York City" while the Winston-Salem Journal's Richard Craver says the hometown tobacco company is merely "attempting to make lemonade" out of the ban on smoking in the city's parks, beaches, boardwalks, and pedestrian plazas that was signed into law in February and takes effect today. 

Whether you see it as an aggressive ploy to fill the void left when the last wisp of cigarette smoke wafted into the ozone layer at midnight, or as defensive move to salvage some sales out of yet-another intrusion on personal freedom, Reynolds has launched a newspaper campaign for Camel Snus this morning in local New York newspapers (except the New York Times, which does not accept tobacco advertising) as well as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

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CSPnet.com has some thumbnail images of the full-page ads, which carry the headlines "NYC Smokers Enjoy Freedom Without the Flame" and "NYC Smokers Rise Above the Ban." "Smokers, switch to smoke-free Camel Snus and reclaim the world's greatest city," reads the copy in one of the ads.

An R.J. Reynolds' spokesman says the company simply wants to "make adult smokers in the city aware of a smoke-free tobacco product that's available to them" and that "as trends in tobacco use change, Camel is transforming by offering adult smokers options, like smoke-free Camel Snus, to consider switching to." It refers to the products as "spit-free, smoke-free, mess-free tobacco that comes in a small pouch" on its website. "Just slide it under your upper lip and enjoy." It also plays up the two-century-old Swedish heritage of the product.

"Some public-health advocates, pointing to the difficulty of quitting smoking, argue that products like snus could play a role in reducing tobacco-related harm," Kesmodel writes. "Others say the products may entice more people to take up tobacco, and could keep smokers who otherwise might drop tobacco altogether from doing so."

Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, tells Craver that Reynolds is the first large U.S. tobacco company to encourage smokers to quit smoking by urging them to switch to a smokeless product. The ads, however, do not make any claims of reduced health risks, which doesn't mean that anti-smoking groups find them acceptable.

"These 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," says Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids spokesman Vince Willmore.

In a separate piece in yesterday's Winston-Salem Journal, Craver reports that Matthew Carpenter, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the department of medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, is conducting a federally funded study that aims to answer two key questions in the debate: 1. Can a smokeless product ... contribute to a smoker quitting cigarettes -- particularly one who doesn't want to stop? 2. If it does, could an increase in use of smokeless-tobacco products over cigarettes cause a net harm to the population?

But Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says research should also evaluate whether the marketing of smokeless products result in more people actually using tobacco, "which could result in more deaths, not fewer."

Craver discusses some prior research that indicates that the use of smokeless products may be effective in curbing withdrawal and craving among smokers who want to quit. But, he points out, "the evolution of some health-advocacy groups from anti-smoking to anti-tobacco is ratcheting up the moralistic aspect of buying and consuming a legal product."

Ken Kendrick, the managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, published an op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic yesterday that calls on Major League Baseball to enact a ban on smokeless tobacco just like one that has been in effect for minor leagues teams since 1993.

"Ballplayers aren't indulging a harmless habit when they use smokeless tobacco," he writes. "They're damaging their health with a product that causes cancer and other serious diseases. And they're endangering the well-being of countless kids who look up to them and who copy everything major leaguers do."

Kendrik says that while cigarette sales are down, the promotion of smokeless products as a substitute is having an effect: Smokeless-tobacco use by high-school boys has risen 36% since 2003. "Every time a kid sees a major-league player using smokeless tobacco," he writes, "baseball is contributing free promotion."

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