Reynolds launches campaign to push smokeless product

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is attempting to make lemonade out of the outdoor smoking ban that begins Monday in New York City.

The company is launching a major advertising campaign for Camel Snus next week in hopes of getting smokers to try the smokeless product “and reclaim the world’s greatest city.”

Reynolds is the first large U.S. tobacco company to encourage smokers to quit smoking by urging them to switch to a smokeless product, said Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania. The ads do not make any claims of reduced health risks with a potential switch.

The New York City law is considered one of the largest outdoor smoking bans in the country. There also are bans affecting Los Angeles city parks and Chicago parks with playgrounds. The goal in each instance is reducing second-hand smoke.

New York City violators could be subjected to a fine of up to $100 for each instance by the city’s parks department, but police will not enforce the ban.

Two ads will run in the New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday and some New York weeklies, as well as nationally in USA Today and Wall Street Journal. The New York Times does not take tobacco ads, Reynolds spokesman David Howard said.

One ad features the image of a flame holder with the tagline “NYC Smokers: Enjoy freedom without the flame.” The other ad is in the shape of the Empire State Building with the tagline “NYC Smokers: Rise above the ban.” Both ads feature health warnings.

“We thought this was a good opportunity to communicate with adult smokers in New York City, and across the country, to inform them of a smoke-free, spit-free tobacco option they might want to consider switching to,” Howard said.

The campaign also includes point-of-sale advertising, interaction with age-verified and certified adult tobacco consumers, messages on packs and an age-restricted website.

“Camel is transforming to meet demand from adult tobacco consumers, as well as societal changes,” Howard said. “We wanted to raise awareness of another tobacco product that doesn’t produce second-hand smoke.”

Since Reynolds agreed to participate in the landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that restricted its advertising options, the company has tried to walk a fine line in marketing to young adults.

As expected, the Camel Snus campaign drew criticism from anti-tobacco advocates.

“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,” said Vince Willmore, a spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“The goal is to discourage smokers from taking the one step that would truly protect their health, which is to quit entirely. Once again, Reynolds is putting its bottom line ahead of public health.

“It’s also deeply offensive Reynolds is using iconic New York City images to market a harmful and addictive products, especially in a city that is a global leader in fighting tobacco use,” Willmore said.

Reynolds has not run cigarette ads in newspapers and consumer magazine in 3½ years.

But it has been aggressive with its Camel Snus advertising, including in magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, People, Sports Illustrated, Time and US Weekly, as well as free and alternative publications.

The New York City campaign also is Reynolds’ latest attempt to connect its brands with specific geographic regions and landmarks.

For example, Reynolds conducted a 10-week “Break free adventure” marketing campaign from November through January that had participants guess which trendy destinations the Camel mascot was visiting before coming home to Winston-Salem. Destinations included Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, N.Y.; New Orleans; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Seattle; and Sturgis, S.D.

Anti-smoking groups and health and government officials protested the campaign for using well-known images of the destinations behind the Camel logo. Reynolds distributed packs bearing the images nationally in December and January.

“The Camel advertising is simultaneously both pragmatic — it is concerned with practical consequence — and yet an auger for the slow but steady change in tobacco-use habits,” said Stephen Pope, an industry analyst and the managing partner of Spotlight Ideas in England.

John Sweeney, the director of the sports-communication program at UNC Chapel Hill, said that the campaign may succeed in attracting new users among smokers.

“It will only get long-term success if it captures a loyal, enthusiastic following,” Sweeney said. “It will only do that if it provides a truly satisfying experience to the current smoker.”

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