Former tobacco company executives from Philip Morris International and Lorillard say they want to help people kick nicotine by switching them to cigarettes made from hemp.
While there are hemp cigarettes on the market, the Taat brand—containing a proprietary material dubbed Beyond Tobacco—is formulated to mimic the taste of tobacco. CBD in Taat’s full-spectrum hemp is meant to combat nicotine withdrawal.
Following a retail test this summer in California and Nevada, Taat—which is targeted to legal-age smokers—will be rolling out in coming months in Ohio convenience stores via a deal with ADCO Distributors.
In this interview, which is edited for brevity, Setti Coscarella—until recently the head strategist at Philip Morris International and now CEO of Taat Lifestyle and Wellness LLC—talks about what it takes for people to quit tobacco cigarettes.
CPG FYI: Give us the short story behind Taat hemp cigarettes.
Coscarella: We’re not positioning this product as a hemp experience that can potentially help tobacco smokers leave their nicotine addition behind. We’re positing Taat as a product that happens to contain hemp. We have a proprietary process that we take the hemp through so that it comes out tasting, smelling and looking exactly like tobacco.
CPG FYI: Why are those similarities important?
Coscarella: If you look at a smoker and you want to give them a product that they will likely switch to, you need to match that experience entirely. So while hemp cigarettes exist in the market, they taste like cannabis.
We wanted to create a product that could use the hemp but engineer the flavor profile to taste like a Marlboro or a Camel or a Davidoff—or any other tobacco-based cigarette, because that’s the experience that market is looking for.
CPG FYI: How does the CBD fit in?
Coscarella: Where I think the advantage for us is, especially on the CBD side, is that we can give smokers an exact replica of an experience they would get smoking a cigarette without it being addictive. But the CBD has properties that would counteract any sort of nicotine withdrawal.
CPG FYI: When some people hear hemp, they think THC. Do your cigarettes contain it?
Coscarella: The current cigarettes will have significantly less than 0.3% THC. The legal limit to sell hemp in the U.S. implies that the THC content needs to be below 0.3%, and ours will be significantly lower than that. At that concentration, it would not really be possible for any user to experience any psychoactive or hallucinogenic effect.
So there’s no effect from the THC at all. It’s as if it’s not there. Our goal ultimately is to deliver a product that has zero THC.
CPG FYI: How do you attain the tobacco flavor?
Coscarella: Our 14-step process for refining Beyond Tobacco in a way that makes it taste and smell like actual tobacco involves the use of machinery and methodologies from various segments of food and beverage production. Through a unique combination of equipment and processes—as well as a flavoring agent—we’ve formed a workflow that can treat hemp so that it tastes and smells just like actual tobacco.
CPG FYI: Tell us about the retail tests you did in California and Nevada.
Coscarella: We offered a test version of the product to get some feedback from that region. Current tobacco smokers who tried Taat for the first time provided some excellent feedback. The general consensus is that the experience of smoking Taat had no significant experiential differences compared to smoking a tobacco cigarette.
CPG FYI: How would you characterize the results?
Coscarella: What we found was once people found it, they liked it and the sales—without any marketing efforts whatsoever—just naturally started to increase week over week over week with repeat purchases.
CPG FYI: What is your approach to advertising?
Coscarella: We’re looking to help solve a problem for the 1.5 billion smokers that exist in the world, and that’s their addiction to nicotine. It’s not my goal to try to recruit people to the category.
I think there’s an extraordinary amount of work to be done in terms of tackling the existing market as it is. So from a marketing standpoint, when we try to communicate with people,
we’re not looking to try to bring people in. We’re trying to switch people who already are [smoking].