Philip Morris To Use New Paper
NEW YORK (AP) - Philip Morris is wrapping all Merit brand cigarettes sold in the United States in a patented paper that it says may reduce the risk that a dropped or carelessly discarded cigarette will ignite some household fabrics.
The nation's biggest cigarette company said Tuesday it had decided in the past few weeks to use the new cigarette paper nationally for its fourth-biggest brand after receiving favorable results from tests with consumers in Denver and Buffalo.
It plans to begin shipping the cigarettes to its warehouses next week and expects they will be widely available to smokers by early September.
The announcement came as a Philip Morris' attorney argued before a Florida jury that the punitive damage award of up to $196 billion sought by the smokers' attorney in a class action suit would be a ``death warrant'' for the five major U.S. tobacco companies.
Matt Myers, who heads the anti-tobacco group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, questioned the timing, saying ``the fire Philip Morris is trying to put out isn't in the house, it's in the courtroom.''
But Philip Morris USA spokesman Michael Pfeil said it was coincidental that the Merit announcement was made as closing arguments were being made in the Florida case.
``We believe that the technology works well, that it will be acceptable to consumers and it is the responsible thing to make it available now,'' Pfeil said.
Philip Morris said earlier this year that it had developed a slower-burning paper that may lower the risk of fires started by discarded cigarettes, but wanted to gauge smokers' reaction if the cigarette goes out when put in an ashtray briefly.
The company puts two narrow bands of paper on top of regular cigarette paper and then wraps the bands and tobacco inside during the cigarette-making process. The paper bands act as ``speed bumps'' to slow the rate at which the cigarette burns when the lit end passes over them. Smokers don't see the bands, however.
John Nelson, senior vice president of operations at Philip Morris, said tests showed cigarettes with the paper - called PaperSelect - were less likely to ignite certain fabrics than those with regular paper, and posed no added health risk.
Thomas Garguilo, category director for premium brands at Philip Morris, said the company wanted to see if smokers would embrace the change or switch brands.
He said Merits with the new paper were put in selected stores in Denver and Buffalo in February without any notice that the paper had been changed. The number of complaints about the cigarettes rose, especially that they went out on their own, Garguilo said.
But he said nine out of 10 Merit smokers who were told what was new about the cigarettes, and one of three smokers of other brands, preferred Merits with the new paper.
Nelson said consumers recognized they still had to be careful and there was no ``fire-safe'' cigarette. ``We didn't want people to think they could smoke in bed,'' Nelson said.
Merit accounts for about 2 percent of U.S. cigarette sales and is Philip Morris' fourth biggest seller behind Marlboro, Basic and Virginia Slims.
The tobacco critic Myers said that if the new paper really poses a smaller risk of starting fires, Philip Morris has ``an obligation both moral and legal to put that paper on all their products, not just on one brand with a small market share.''
But Nelson said the company doesn't have the capacity to make the new paper on a broader scale yet and wants to see how Merit fares nationally.
He said Philip Morris would probably decide next year whether to use the paper for other brands. He said it would also license the technology to other cigarette makers.
Calls to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the second biggest U.S. cigarette maker with brands like Winston and Camels, and No. 3 Brown & Williamson Tobacco, which makes Lucky Strikes and Kool, were not returned.