Sales begin for reduced-carcinogen cigarette
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -- A cigarette touted by its maker as having fewer cancer-causing ingredients is now being sold in stores and promoted through an advertising campaign.
Durham-based Vector Tobacco began selling the Omni brand early last month. Advertisements started showing up in selected newspapers and magazines nationwide on Nov. 12.
Brown & Williamson Tobacco of Louisville, Ky., also is test marketing Advance cigarette, which is said to significantly reduce toxins from cigarette smoke.
Vector Tobacco says it uses a chemical treatment that reduces three types of carcinogens in smoke coming from Omni cigarettes by 15 percent to 60 percent. The cigarettes currently are made in Durham and ultimately will be manufactured in a Person County plant undergoing renovation.
The ad campaign includes traditional soft-sell advertisements of smokers surrounded by lush and quiet scenes and the words, "Reduced Carcinogens. Premium Taste."
A more blunt ad features "An Open Letter to American Smokers" signed by Vector Tobacco chief executive Bennett LeBow, whose Liggett Group subsidiary was the first cigarette-maker to settle tobacco lawsuits with the states.
"As we all know, smoking is addictive and hazardous to your health," LeBow said.
Later, he said: "Let me be perfectly clear -- there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, and we do not encourage anyone to smoke. But we strongly believe that if you do smoke, Omni is the best alternative."
Aside from the Surgeon General's warning, the ads contain another caution stating the reduction in carcinogens has "not been proven to result in a safer cigarette" and that Omni cigarettes contain harmful products.
Vector said thousands of stores currently are selling Omni but couldn't provide an exact number. Omni is designed to sell at a price comparable to premium cigarettes such as industry leader Marlboro.
"We've had very positive consumer feedback about the taste," Carrie Bloom, a Vector spokeswoman, said Tuesday from New York. "That was important, people aren't going to buy a cigarette they don't like."
Vector Tobacco, owned by Miami-based Vector Group Ltd., is a sister company to Mebane-based Liggett Group Inc., the smallest of the major tobacco companies.
Vector is spending about $100 million in what it calls its "less hazardous" smoking products.
A nicotine-free cigarette will be introduced next year using the treatment plus a new type of tobacco genetically engineered to contain virtually no nicotine.
One of the biggest investors in Vector Group is Carl Icahn, the billionaire financier. In August, Icahn's High River LP investment arm shelled out $48 million to raise its ownership stake in Vector Group to nearly 22 percent.