Reynolds holds high hopes for its (almost) smoke-free cigarette

R. J.

November 27, 1994|By New York Times News Service

Faced with shrinking markets and mounting attacks by anti-smoking groups, the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. plans to market a cigarette next year that produces little smoke or odor and no ash but contains as much nicotine as regular cigarettes.

The company, which has spent about $500 million in the last decade developing the low-smoke cigarette, is gambling that such a product can bring new life to the industry.

The new cigarette, Reynolds hopes, could undercut some of the most basic arguments made against smoking: that cigarettes are extremely hazardous to smokers and that secondhand smoke is irritating and harmful to nonsmokers.

The new cigarette, called Eclipse, does not burn the tobacco but uses smoldering charcoal to extract the flavor, cutting the cancer-causing tars of other cigarettes by 90 percent, company executives say. But Reynolds stops short of making direct health claims for the cigarette because it does not have the scientific evidence to back up the claim.

xTC The company introduced a similar nonburning cigarette, called Premier, in 1988, but it was withdrawn because smokers disliked the flavor and critics protested that it was intended to lure new smokers and prevent current smokers from quitting.

The objections by smokers have been largely overcome by making the cigarette smell, taste and look more like a regular cigarette. And the company plans to market Eclipse in an unusual manner: in town meetings in which smokers would be introduced to the cigarette and spread the word about it.

Thomas C. Griscom, executive vice president of Reynolds, said the company saw Eclipse seizing a small share of the market in the beginning -- perhaps 1 percent -- but that the share would steadily grow as people tried the new cigarette. "This is where we hope the future of the company is,'' he said. Because the new cigarette delivers as much nicotine as regular cigarettes, it is just as addictive. The cigarette also delivers about as much carbon monoxide, which is toxic to the lungs, as regular cigarettes.

Company tests show that the smoke from each new cigarette contains 0.1 nanograms, or billionths of a gram, of benzo (a) pyrene compared with 9.2 nanograms of the same cancer-causing chemical in a standard filter cigarette.

Of nitrosamines, another potent cancer-causing chemical, the amount is 2.6 nanograms compared with 101 nanograms in a standard cigarette.

Dr. John Pauly, an expert who studies smoking at the Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo said: "We have come to realize that despite numerous warnings since 1964, there exists a very large segment of the smoking population who are either unwilling or unable to give up smoking. It's worthwhile to come in with a safer cigarette. I interpret Eclipse as an effort by the tobacco industry to have a safer cigarette."

The Eclipse cigarette looks like a standard, white filtered cigarette, and contains tobacco and reconstituted tobacco parts.

The crucial difference is at the lighted end, the first half inch or so. At that end is a piece of charcoal, wrapped in a fiberglass insulator.

When the charcoal is lit, it burns at about 900 degrees Celsius, or about the same as the flame on a regular cigarette. But it is wrapped in an insulator so that it does not start the tobacco on fire.

Just behind the charcoal are processed tobacco parts containing more than 50 percent glycerin, which vaporizes at temperatures below those that would burn a cigarette. The glycerin thus makes a smoke-like medium to carry the tobacco flavors without burning the tobacco.

In effect, then, the cigarette works like a coffee maker. The hot air passes through the glycerin and tobacco, carrying flavor and nicotine, just as water passing through coffee grounds picks up flavor, and leaves the coffee grounds in the filter.

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