And the cliff-hanger about Philip Morris USA and snus I promised in Part One of this series is contained right here in Part Two! DON'T READ AHEAD.....you'll spoil it for yourself!
And we'll bring RJR Tobacco and Camel SNUS into the picture to foreshadow Part Three! But first lets start with America's perception of tobacco.
When someone says the word "tobacco", the first thought that comes into most people’s minds is cigarettes. Cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product in the world and since 1983, Philip Morris USA has been the largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the United States.
Today, as best I can ascertain from conflicting numbers, there are somewhere around 46 million daily smokers 18 years or older in the U.S. and 1.2 billion daily smokers in the world. For over 30 years, I used to be one of them until I discovered Swedish Snus. But sadly:
-Nearly half of all lifetime smokers will die because of their cigarette use.
-In the United States, cigarette smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death, claiming some 400,000 victims a year.
However, in Sweden, cigarettes are no longer the tobacco of choice among adult males (and increasingly, women as well). They look at studies like the two outlined in Part 1 and had decided they can have their nicotine and tobacco taste safer and more discreetly by using Swedish Snus.
Don't think this was overlooked by the major cigarette manufacturers. To the contrary, what was happening in Sweden was a precursor to what would eventually happen in other industrialized nations including the United States.
The European Union has banned the sale of Swedish snus, except in Sweden, since 1992. It was a political move at the time, but many voices in the European anti-smoking lobby say it is time to reconsider.
"It was a pre-emptive measure based on the evidence at the time," Lars Ramstrom, Director of the Institute for Tobacco Studies in Stockholm, a research organization that does not accept money from the tobacco or pharmaceutical industries, in a 2006 interview.
He goes on to say regarding the ban. "The EU reached its conclusions before knowing the modesty of the risks."
Based on US Government cigarette tax sales data, there was over a 4% decline in 2005 cigarette sales alone, and an overall drop in sales of more than 20 percent since 1998.
This really caught the attention of Big Tobacco.
Between the legislative efforts of Anti-Smoking Groups, the Government taxing cigarettes to death, the places where smoking was allowed ever-shrinking, and the strengthening social stigma associated with cigarettes, a new long-term strategy was clearly called for.
So while happy Swedes were snusing away unaware, on July 14, 2006, Philip Morris USA announced the introduction of their first American "snus", Taboka.
It was test-marketed in Indianapolis as Taboka Original and Taboka Green (Menthol).
This choice of "flavors" indicates either one of two things to me: either the Marketing genius's at Philip Morris USA didn't think the American Smoker would be bright enough to figure out what Taboka was unless it was offered in Cigarette flavors OR Philip Morris USA itself had a very poor understanding of what snus actually was.
At first I believed it was a combination of both, with the additional wish by Philip Morris USA to make this a very profitable product.
Taboka was manufactured in Richmond, Va. and used pasteurized U.S. grown tobacco. Remember the word "pasteurized" regarding Taboka because, despite extensive research into its successor, Marlboro snus, I've never seen the word "pasteurized" used again; even on their web sites.
So what happened with Taboka? It bombed.
Not living in Indianapolis and still blissfully unaware of Swedish Snus, I happily smoked my Eclipse Menthols, the "safest", most odor free cigarette available, complements of RJ Reynolds.
I learned to love them (the regular flavor Eclipse should have never made it out of the lab) and felt good about my new healthy lifestyle. (the Texas Cigarette tax hike hadn’t hit yet).
Meanwhile, the ill-fated Taboka was marketed as a "smoke-free and spit-free tobacco pouch product".......who in marketing came up with "spit-free" as a catch-phrase?
Granted, unlike chewing tobacco, Taboka, like Swedish Snus and the other American "snus's, was spit-free and people needed to know that, but couldn't they have come up with a nicer way to say it?
A "spit-free tobacco pouch product"....THAT really paints a pretty picture, doesn't it! Sophisticated, high class, desirable.....what marketing wizard dreamed that one up?
Just imagine the advertising campaign: "I'll be right back, honey. I have to run down to the 7-Eleven and pick up some of that spit-free menthol!" It's a good thing they had banned tobacco ads on TV by then. Imagine watching that commercial while eating dinner!
Taboka's marketing had as much to do with its demise as its taste. (Again, I never tasted it but, as shown below, Marlboro snus is the recommended replacement....and I HAVE tasted that, ...so Taboka must have been awful).
Philip Morris USA's epitaph for Taboka as it was on their web site until they deleted it:
"Philip Morris USA introduced into test market in 2006 a smoke-free and spit-free tobacco pouch product, called Taboka, designed especially for adult smokers interested in smokeless tobacco alternatives to smoking. Taboka was test marketed in the Indianapolis area to understand adult smoker acceptance of this new product. We are discontinuing the Taboka test market. Marlboro Snus is currently available in the Indianapolis area."
Its first spit-less tobacco a failure (it must have tasted REALLY, REALLY awful), we move on to Marlboro snus. And this is where the mystery really begins.
I live in Texas, one of the test markets for both Marlboro and Camel snus. You would think that Marlboro would want to produce a better tasting, better overall product than Camel, especially in a test market.
The word of mouth publicity is critically important in any new product test like this. And here you have two tobacco brand giants; Marlboro and Camel, both offering a product called "snus" (whatever THAT was), both at the same time.
Which ever product was most popular and got the best press here would hit the internet and would shape buying habits around the country once/if the products go national.
Meanwhile, the US Anti-Smoking Groups were frantic.
For decades, the odor of cigarettes and the Second-Hand-Smoke argument gave them victory after victory: no smoking in restaurants, no smoking in office buildings, no smoking in airports, no smoking ANYWHERE they could jam an ordinance through prohibiting smoking.
Suddenly, all their ammunition crumbled into dust.
Swedish snus had no odor. There was no "Second-Hand-Snus" issue to trumpet. The person sitting next to you could be enjoying a portion of Swedish snus and you would never even know it!
Swedish snus didn't cause mouth or lung cancer. There was no spitting so you couldn't come up with a health hazard or social issue there. And many Swedish snus cans have a little container built in the top for the user to store their used snus: no litter issue either.
And now their counter-parts in the EU were apparently backing down. These were dark times, but that didn't stop the Anti-Cigarette crowd from trying to fight back.
First came the "scientific studies" showing that "long-term" (long-term never being defined) snus use COULD cause pancreatic cancer because of the nicotine. Well then, so could cigarettes and Swedish snus was proving to be A LOT safer than cigarettes.
Then they claimed it was a marketing ploy to hook children on nicotine! They'll have to prove that one in court. I'm not commenting further at this point.
In Texas during the last legislative session, they raised the cigarette tax a dollar a pack. Suddenly, my beloved Eclipse Menthol's cost $60 a carton….and I smoked a carton a week. Good bye, Eclipse, hello "bargain" brands or the local Indian Reservation . (which never, ever carried Eclipse! I could have changed that, Ms. Ivey of RJR, if you had picked up on my not-so-subtle hints and hired me to market them).
Back to business. Clearly a new strategy was called for by Big American Tobacco. Off-shore manufacturing/licensing and world-wide sales had already been put in high gear. But regarding the United States, if there was a "safe" or "reduced harm" (they lawyers made them dump "safe" just to be safe) cigarette alternative WITH nicotine....... there was opportunity!
RJ Reynolds Tobacco and Camel SNUS deserve and will receive their own article in Part 3 of this series. But after you read this article on Marlboro Snus, don't go rushing out to the store to buy Camel SNUS instead.
Because make no mistake about it, both Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds Tobacco used, and continue to use, America's lack of knowledge about snus as an excuse to put out a grossly inferior quality product which, to add insult to injury, gives you much less quantity per package for up to $3 more than what you could purchase with Swedish snus!
More details on that later, but the bottom line is that BOTH RJ Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris USA took, and are continuing to this day to take advantage of the American tobacco consumer's lack of knowledge concerning REAL snus; Swedish snus.
The gross AND net profits on BOTH Marlboro and Camel SNUS must be OUTRAGEOUS to the point of being OBSCENE! I smell big Executive bonus's!
I hope they enjoy them because, in the end, this short-sighted marketing plan will cost the shareholders of both companies huge amounts of money down the road to overcome.
R.J. Reynolds seemed to play into this game that way. Marlboro is a real mystery. Let’s look at why.
In describing Marlboro snus, the phrase "air dried tobacco" is used but, in scouring both the Marlboro Snus and Philip Morris USA web sites, I couldn't’ find the word "pasteurized" anywhere. Further, the warning labels for Marlboro's chewing tobacco and Marlboro Snus are identical.
One can only conclude that the tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA's) in Marlboro Snus are similar or identical to its carcinogenic cousin, Marlboro Moist Smokeless Tobacco. If true, then Marlboro Snus is no safer than "chew" or "dip" tobacco and likely carries the same oral cancer risks!
Swedish Snus and even Camel SNUS must be refrigerated until opened. Marlboro Snus does not require refrigeration.
Swedish Snus is semi-moist to moist with a water content up to 50%. Marlboro Snus is referred has a very low moisture level and is even referred to by Philip Morris USA as a "dried tobacco product"
A can of Marlboro Snus contains 12 portions with either 0.4 or 0.6 grams of snus each (couldn't find that on their website either). Swedish Snus generally contains 24 portions of 1.0 gram each.
That's half the amount of portions and 7.2 grams of Marlboro snus versus twice the amount of portions and 24.0 grams of Swedish Snus. And amazingly, Marlboro snus costs MORE than most Swedish Snus's!
Just days ago, General (the most popular brand of Swedish snus) announced the introduction of General Strong Snus which contains 11mg. of nicotine and joins the growing group of Swedish Snus producers marketing higher nicotine snus. The Swedish standard is 8 mg. of nicotine, the oral equivilent to one cigarette.
Asked why the addition of General Sterk, Swedish Match, who markets the General and many other brands of Swedish snus, stated that American focus groups, especially among current and former smokers, were requesting the higher nicotine concentration.
The mystery begins: and makes all the more puzzling and illogical the discovery that Marlboro Snus's had an extremely low nicotine content!
J. Foulds and H. Furberg of the University of North Carolina Department of Genetics have discovered that in addition to the low moisture and pH count of Marlboro Snus,it contains 20% LESS nicotine than REGULAR Swedish Snus.
In a joint paper they are writing, they actually put forth the theory that Philip Morris USA"may have designed the [Marlboro Snus] product so that it does not satisfy nicotine cravings and fails to enable smokers to switch." Their abstract concludes:
"We recommend that Philip Morris cease using the term "snus" to refer to dry tobacco products with low nicotine delivery, so that the term be reserved for moist, low-toxin, medium/high nicotine delivery smokeless tobacco products that are qualitatively similar to the leading brands in Sweden."
Wow. I look forward to reading their finished work. And their comments may explain an interesting side note: I've discovered that Skoal is test marketing a "spit-less Dry Tobacco product" in another market. The product description is incredibly similar to Marlboro's except for one little thing: they don't call it Snus! At least not yet. Hmmmmm.
The FAQ PAGE at MarlboroSnus.com just adds to the mystery. The below is from the Marlboro Snus FAQ page with my questions/responses in red:
Q:What is Marlboro Snus? A:Marlboro Snus is a tobacco pouch product that utilizes a unique flavor strip and dried tobacco, which make it flavorful, spit-free and neat. So Marlboro Snus is in effect dry tobacco with a breath strip?
Q:How do you use Marlboro Snus?
A: It's easy. Just tuck a pouch between your cheek and gum. They last about twice as long as a cigarette. No need to spit. Please don't chew the pouch. Please dispose of in a proper receptacle when you're done. Depending on the smoker, a cigarette lasts about 5 minutes. Are you saying that Marlboro Snus only lasts 10 minutes? Swedish Snus can last to over 2 HOURS. And what's the big danger of chewing the pouch? Camel is even more emphatic in Part 3. What are these American pouches made of?
Q: What makes it spit-free?
A:Marlboro Snus has low moisture tobacco and a unique flavor strip, which make it flavorful, spit-free and neat. So again, you’re basically saying Marlboro Snus is in effect dry tobacco with a breath strip?
Q:Where can you find Marlboro Snus?
A:Marlboro Snus is currently available only in the Dallas/Fort Worth, and Indianapolis areas. Check back to see if Marlboro Snus has become available in your area. Why pick on us? And why is Camel SNUS in so many more test markets? Gun shy after Taboka?
Q:How can I request a coupon for Marlboro Snus?
A:Marlboro Snus is currently available only in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Indianapolis area. Visit the Save on Snus section to request a coupon if you live in the Dallas/Fort Worth or Indianapolis area. Can I get cash instead?
Q:What's the difference between Snus and Dip or Chew?
A:Marlboro Snus is designed for smokers and is spit-free. It has a unique flavor-strip based on the taste preferences of adult smokers. Unlike traditional smokeless tobacco, Marlboro Snus is low in moisture and is designed for a longer shelf life. So we’re back to spit-free marketing, a now-unique breath strip and its dry tobacco...but no mention of "reduced harm" or pasteurization! I guess you need the longer shelf life since American snus isn't going over too well. I checked the expiration dates at my local convenience store selling Camel SNUS, which is refrigerated, and almost all of it had either expired or was within weeks of doing so.
Q: What varieties are available?
A:Marlboro Snus comes in four varieties: Rich, Mild, Mint and Spice. Better than Original and Green, I guess. Swedish Snus comes in well over a hundred different taste varieties.
Q:Is the tobacco in Marlboro Snus the same blend that's used in Marlboro cigarettes?
A: No. What is it, then? Just saying "No" means it could be even cheaper tobacco than is found in cigarettes, the bottom of the barrel. Why wouldn't you go on about how wonderful the tobacco is that you use in Marlboro snus? Unless it's not, of course.
Q:Why is the product called Snus?
A:Snus refers to a range of smokeless tobacco products, including pouch products, manufactured and marketed in Sweden, the U.S. and other places. Marlboro Snus pouches are similar to other snus products, meaning, among other things, that they are smoke-free and spit-free. VERY, VERY Misleading. Aside from being smoke-free, coming in a pouch, and being spit-free, Marlboro Snus bears NO SIMILARITY to Swedish Snus. In fact, snus is just the Swedish word for snuff.
Q:Is Snus a new product?
A:Snus was invented in Sweden, where it has been enjoyed for over two hundred years. We perfected it in Marlboro Country so smokers in the U.S. can experience a new way to enjoy tobacco. YOU PERFECTED IT???? You Arrogant, money-hungry GENIUS’s took a 200 Year Old Product regulated as a Food Product by the Swedish Government and have the gall to say that in only TWO YEARS, you PERFECTED IT into a dry, spit-less, non-pasteurized, carcinogenic inferior piece of .....? You EXPLOIT and DEGRADE Swedish Snus by even IMPLYING Marlboro Snus is anything CLOSE to Swedish Snus. I Challenge you to submit Marlboro Snus to the Swedish Food Regulators for certification as REAL SNUS. They will laugh you out of the office.
Q: Do you have to keep Marlboro Snus refrigerated at all times to ensure freshness?
A:No, Marlboro Snus does not require refrigeration. Unlike other types of Snus, Marlboro Snus is sealed in foil, which helps keeps the flavor fresh. The fact that it’s dry, unpasturized tobacco doesn’t hurt either. How many hundreds of years will it last? Will it survive a nuclear war?
Q: How many pouches do people usually use in a day?
A: That's up to the consumer to decide. Finally, a true statement. In the case of Marlboro Snus, I would recommend ZERO.
Q: How many pouches come in each Slidepak™ package?
A:Each Marlboro Snus Slidepak™ contains 12 pouches. Most Swedish Snus’s contain 20 to 24 portions……and they’re called PORTIONS!
Q:Why is Marlboro offering Marlboro Snus? That's a question I'd like the REAL answer to, though I suspect I already know.
A:Some smokers are interested in smokeless tobacco alternatives to cigarettes. Marlboro Snus is a smokeless tobacco smokers like. With a unique flavor strip and dried tobacco, these tiny pouches are spit-free and smoke-free, so they can go almost anywhere, anytime. From my experience, I would answer the question this way: "Some smokers are interested in smokeless tobacco alternatives to cigarettes. Marlboro Snus, while a smokeless alternative, is not really Snus at all. REAL Snus doesn’t use “flavor strips”: they mix spices, fruit flavors or other ingredients in with the tobacco and are MOIST or SEMI-MOIST, not dry. These “tiny” (Swedes call them “mini”) PORTIONS are overpriced, under-nicotined, artificially flavored and would not even come close to qualifying as Snus under Swedish Food Regulations. Being spit-free and smoke-free does NOT qualify Philip Morris USA to classify this product as a real Swedish Snus". As to where they can go, the coupons I receive from Philip Morris USA for Free Marlboro Snus go right in the trash.
NOW FOR THE REAL MYSTERY: At the beginning of this series back in Part One, I said I almost entitled this "The Philip Morris Snus Mystery".
The reason I said that and what has me so perplexed is Philip Morris can’t simply use the excuse “Oh, we didn’t really know what differentiated Swedish Snus from other smokeless tobacco products. We’re sorry.”
As I have been writing this piece, I have been enjoying one of my new favorite Swedish Snus’s. It’s the Philip Morris 1847 White-Portion! That’s right; Philip Morris actually produces their OWN SWEDISH SNUS in Sweden!
Philip Morris apparently bought the small Swedish snus manufacturer Rocker some years ago and this is the first release for the Swedish market. It comes in a unique exclusive metal can with embossed details and is available both in original and white portions. 1847 represents the year Philip Morris opened their first tobacco shop on Bond Street in London.
I reviewed it in my June 2008 Swedish Snus Review & News after buying a roll (10 cans) and really enjoyed it!
Thus the mystery: Philip Morris KNOWS how to make REAL SWEDISH SNUS that tastes GREAT…..so why are they pawning off this third rate Marlboro (it’s not) Snus in the USA?
Why, if they ever plan to export the 1847 here, would they ruin the Philip Morris name in the American snus market?
Why aren’t they blowing Camel SNUS out of the water by selling the 1847 here? It’s actually CHEAPER to buy 1846 mail-order then to buy that …..stuff they call Marlboro Snus at the local convenience store!
Heck, forget Camel SNUS: Swedish Match is selling General and Catch Swedish Snus over the counter in the US at tobacco stores in 17 States and growing.
Why aren't you marketing the Philip Morris 1847 against General portion and white-portion in the US???? The 1847 is good enough to go head to head with Swedish Match.
Snus is a $3 Billion a year industry and GROWING. While that's peanuts compared to the $70 Billion a year cigarette industry, the ratio is going to a lot different in 5 or 10 years. You could get an early start and OWN the American Snus market by then!
Instead you give us this "spit-less", over-priced, vile, Marlboro (it's not) Snus?
Philip MorrisUSA/Altria: What IDIOT came up with THIS convoluted marketing fiasco?
The American public won't stay uninformed about Swedish Snus forever: why would you risk alienating 46 million cigarette smokers plus I don't know how many pipe and cigar smokers (yes, cigar: Cuban tobacco Swedish Snus is available and once our embargo against Cuba goes away.....), and chewing tobacco users in the US by associating yourself with the waste product you call Marlboro Snus????
Are you capitalizing on an uninformed public and the anti-smoking craze to make a quick enormous profit; damn the future? What possible long-term strategy could benefit from this bizarre plan?
And therein lies one mystery. I also don't why know Susan Ivey never hired me to handle the marketing on Eclipse is another, but that's another story.
I DO have a very plausible THEORY, though, but you'll have to wait until the end of Part 3 to read that.
What I DO know is that even if you're planning on buying Swedish Match and every other Swedish Snus company you can get a hold of in the future, Taboka and ESPECIALLY Marlboro (how dare you call it) snus WILL come back to haunt you.
And the windfall profits you're making now combined with the poor reputation you are giving snus will cost a LOT MORE money to overcome down the road.
The American people; tobacco users and non-tobacco users alike, do not take kindly to being made FOOLS of. And they do not forgive easily. Brand Loyalty only goes so far.
Enjoy your REAL Swedish snus!
The Snus Guru
July 8th, 2008
LINK TO PART 3