Jay's World of Abstracts 00018


Come to LeBow Country

by Joshua Davis
Wired 11.02 Feb 2003

[Standard disclaimer: The nature of abstracts are that they are pieces of something larger. Not everyone is going to be happy with my choice of abstracts from any larger work, so if you are dissatisfied, I would refer you to the original document, which should be able to be found on the Internet. I encourage others to make their own abstracts to satisfy their needs. I would be happy to publish them here.

Jay's Introduction

This is an abstract from an article that talks about the new "nicotine-free" cigarette and how they get smokers who want to be kinder to their lungs to buy it. The name of cigarette is Quest and its maker is Vector, which you may remember as the old Liggett Group: the same folks that actually admitted that cigarettes can lead to cancer and helped the government win a war against the tobacco companies. Bennett LeBow is Vector's CEO and the man who exposed "big tobacco."

I produced this abstract using time paid for by the Quay County Maternal Child and Community Health Council with funds from the New Mexico Department of Health.

Abstracts

"Asking people to stop smoking is like asking them to stay out of the sun. It's not practical. So you sell them sunscreen."Bennett LeBow, former smoker and CEO, Vector

[...]

Ironically, all the work that health officals have done to educate the public about the addictive nature of cigarettes has laid the foundation for the Quest's marketing campaign. For decades, nicotine has been identified as the addictive element in cigarettes -- to such an extent that nicotine is often viewed as the most dangerous ingredient.

It isn't. It's the 4,000 chemicals in smoke that cause cancer, emphasema, strokes, and heart disease. Nonetheless, nicotine has become the symbol of all that is scary in cigarettes. Vector has only to say "Nicotine-free," and smokers are apt to conclude that Quest is safer.

That prospect has Public Health advocates fuming. "Smokers like whatever sounds like a panacea," said Alan Blum, an outspoken industry critic who heads the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama. "But no matter what you do to smoke, it's still smoke. Maybe you can make it a little better, but it's like jumping off the 40th floor instead of the 50th."

The Quest, however, neatly sidesteps the debate over reduced-harm cigarettes. LeBow learned from the Omni (a previous "healthy" cigarette) that marketing a healthier cigarette is next to impossible. Instead, he decided to introduce the Quest as a way for smokers to wean themselves off of nicotine. In other words, it is a smoking cessation product, much like Nicorette. This puts LeBow in a difficult position. In order to market the Quest as a cigarette that helps people kick the habit, Vector must submit extensive research proving its efficacy to the FDA, which regulates health claims. Vector began the research in October, but it won't be ready for at least nine months.

LeBow isn't waiting that long to launch the Quest. So he's in the position of introducing a smoking-cessation product without uttering the words "smoking cessation." That's leading to some bizarre marketing materials. Rather than straightforwardly explaining a step-by-step process for kicking nicotine, the colorful Quest insert exhorts smokers to "Step to nicotine free!" And then obliquely asks, "Which to try first? Why not low-nicotine Quest 1?" It sounds like a game of Taboo, where you lose if you say the forbidden word. But Vector officials don't seem to be having any fun. With straight faces, they repeatedly stress that they are making no health claims about their products.

Public health types aren't buying it. "When we show these 'we're making no claims' ads to the 600 smokers in our studies, we find that smokers do in fact perceive health claims," says Connolly, of Massachusetts Tobacco Control, a state-funded watchdog group that conducts advertising research.


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