R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has launched a national campaign marketing Camel Snus as a potential New Year’s resolution solution for smokers.
David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman, said that it is the company’s first campaign aimed specifically at encouraging smokers to switch to Camel Snus.
“A lot of adults make a decision to quit smoking this time of the year,” Howard said. “For those making that attempt, but still wanting the pleasure of tobacco, we’re saying ‘Here’s an option.’ ”
Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, said he believes 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 have run in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, People, Sports Illustrated, Time and US Weekly, as well as free and alternative publications.
In the “2011 smoke-free resolution” ad, Reynolds said it supports smokers who have decided to quit using tobacco. “But if you’re looking for smoke-free, spit-free, drama-free tobacco pleasure, Camel Snus is your answer,” the ad’s text reads.
The ads also contain a large warning that “smokeless tobacco is addictive.”
Howard said that the “drama-free” reference is aimed at adults who want to use tobacco products in restaurants, bars and other social outlets where smoking is discouraged or banned.
Reynolds’ print ads are part of a “take the pleasure switch challenge” campaign tied to an age-restricted Camel website.
Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that Reynolds should “stop its insidious marketing of tobacco products in ways that seek to discourage smokers from quitting and keep them hooked on nicotine.”
“The ads are trying to take advantage of people trying to end all uses of tobacco,” Myers said. “If a smoker does that, switch to smokeless, they’ll be worse off than if they had quit.”
Snus comes in a small pouch that is placed between the lip and gum. The tobacco is pasteurized, not fermented, and it contains less moisture and salt than moist snuff. It also does not require the consumer to spit, Reynolds said.
Although Reynolds does not dictate the price of Camel Snus at retail, the price is comparable to a premium pack of cigarettes, which typically sells for $4 to $4.50.
Reynolds has been the most aggressive U.S. tobacco manufacturer with snus. It began its first trial in April 2006, with national distribution commencing in January 2009.
The ads do not make any claims of reduced health risks with a potential switch.
Some anti-smoking advocates are encouraging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow the advertising of smokeless tobacco as less harmful than cigarettes if such claims can be proven through research.
For example, a study of smokers ages 18 to 70 — released in November by the Tobacco Use Research Center of the University of Minnesota — found that “quit rates for Camel Snus were comparable to those obtained with nicotine replacement therapy.”
“A properly powered study is needed to determine if use of smokeless tobacco products with higher nicotine content can be an effective path to smoking cessation, perhaps especially among smokers who are not interested in or previously were not successful with using approved pharmaco therapies.”
Some anti-tobacco advocates oppose marketing smokeless products under cigarettes’ brand names because of those brands’ appeal to youth.
The 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, released Dec. 14, found that smokeless tobacco use is rising among eighth, 10th and 12th graders, including at 16 percent among 12th-grade boys. The survey is conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
Michigan researchers said that factors leading to the increases in smokeless-tobacco use likely included increased advertising and availability of these products.
Myers said that research of smokeless products must evaluate what harm is caused by the product along with how the product is marketed. “If a smokeless product reduces the risk of disease, but results in more people using tobacco, it could result in more deaths, not fewer,” Myers said.
Godshall said it will be interesting to see if the FDA tries to claim “that Reynolds’ new ads make Camel Snus an unapproved smoking-cessation drug device.” He said that the FDA has made such a claim with electronic cigarettes.
By RICHARD CRAVER