This all started with a taste test study I was conducting for a future article on this sudden and so-called American snus versus Swedish snus Taste Preference.
We noted one odd thing about Triumph snus: we were using much more of it than not only Swedish Snus but Camel SNUS as well. At first I wrote it off to Camel SNUS clearly stating their product's "taste" only lasts about 30 minutes while Triumph's lasted longer. But that didn't seem to completely solve the riddle.
The memory of something another reader in Georgia mentioned when Triumph was first introduced which I filed under "curious" re-surfaced.
He said that the free cans of Triumph Lorillard gave away during the product introduction had more of a "nicotine buzz" than the Triumph snus which were sold after the free promotion was over.
I began investigating Triumph Snus. It was difficult because not only does Lorillard not have a Triumph website, even the ageing Lorillard Tobacco website doesn't mention Triumph, and their Customer Call Center knew nothing about the product: one Call Center Rep never even heard of Triumph Snus!
I finally spoke with someone I won't name for fear of her losing her job by actually doing her job: trying to help me.
I discovered that the Lorillard Customer Call Center was located at the cigarette manufacturing facility, not their Corporate Office. She was excited to tell me about a new cigarette Lorillard is introducing but, like her co-workers, knew nothing about Triumph.
Unlike her co-workers, she told me she would look into it and call me back. A half hour later she did. She wouldn't give me a name or even the phone number to the corporate office but did transfer me.
I was sent to a voicemail; it was a little garbled, of someone I believe named "Kent Watkins". I left my contact information, reasons for calling, which included how the Triumph project was going, when were they going to expand it, why didn't they have a Triumph website, and moved on.
All "American Tasting" snuses are either too sickly candy-sweet or tasteless for my taste-buds, but I'm accustom to real, Swedish Snus.
Lorillard was an exception (not on taste...they had fallen for the "American Taste" issue too), but because they had Triumph private labeled for them and made in Sweden by Swedish Match AB, the worlds largest producer of Snus.
I thought that was a brilliant marketing move which would propel Triumph, as an American flavored snus, to the top of the American flavored snus heap.
Swedish snus is by far the best in the world and since they were having Triumph made in Sweden, quality and value wise, it should be a slam dunk.
I contacted some people I know in Sweden and at Swedish Match while I waited to hear back from Lorillard. And that's when the bombshell hit.
Sources at Swedish Match in a position to know, and who only spoke on the condition of their anonymity, informed me that Triumph Snus may have been directed by Lorillard to lower the amount of nicotine in each portion pouch of Triumph Snus.
However and who ever initiated it, they stated that instead of the standard 8 mg/g of nicotine (roughly the equivalent of an inhaled cigarette) the nicotine content of the current Triumph Snus had been reduced to 4-5 mg/g of nicotine!
A week had now gone by and Kent at Lorillard had never returned my call.
Calling again, I asked immediately to be transferred to the corporate office and for someone who could address this issue; this time refusing to leave a message.
After about 10 minutes, with very polite intermittent apologies that they were searching for the correct person, I was connected; not to the Triumph Project Manager, but to Ron Milstein, Senior Vice President, Legal and External Affairs, General Counsel and Secretary for Lorillard Tobacco.
I informed Mr. Milstein of what I had learned and had intentionally held back publishing the nicotine information without giving Lorillard an official opportunity to respond.
Mr. Milstein did respond. He stated that he would neither confirm, deny or make any comment on the nicotine content of Triumph Snus.
Frankly, and I told him as much, I was taken aback. Without a denial or explanation from Lorillard, making this information public would be would be a severe set-back for Triumph Snus and it's marketability.
Mr. Milstein repeated that he would not comment on the nicotine content of Triumph Snus. My other questions relating to Lorillard still only testing Triumph in two markets, when they planning to expand the test markets, and other marketing information was deferred by Mr. Milstein.
He asked that I email the questions to him and Lorillard would review them and decide if they would respond.
While it was a polite conversation even invoking a few chuckles from Mr Milstein, it left me very disappointed.
Since Triumph Snus is made in Sweden, private labeled for Lorillard by Swedish Match, Swedish law should require that Triumph meet the strict manufacturing standards applied to all snus made in Sweden.
Since Swedish Match's own branded Swedish Snus is also manufactured to their Proprietary GothiaTek® Process, it's even possible that Triumph exceeded Swedish Government Standards for Snus.
Either way, this would make Triumph Snus the only documented snus marketed by an American Tobacco Company in the United States that could claim the label "reduced harm tobacco product".
Triumph Snus was also the best value in American Tobacco Company snuses as each pouch weighed one gram, know in Sweden as an Original or Regular Portion. Camel SNUS and Marlboro snus for example, only weigh 0.6 grams. This would make them comparable in weight (only) to a Swedish Mini Portion.
Each can of Triumph Snus also contained 24 portion pouches while Camel SNUS cans contains 15 pouches and Marlboro snus cans contain only 12 pouches. Yet, while prices varied in different areas, Triumph Snus was actual less expensive than Camel SNUS or Marlboro snus, just as most Swedish Snus is.
From a value perspective, for less money, Lorillard was offering (like most Swedish Snus) 24 grams of snus for less money than Camel; which offers 9 grams of unknown quality snus which may be somewhat lower in carcinogens as they do say they pasteurize their snus "in a fashion similar to the Swedish"; and Marlboro which offers barely over 7 grams of their very controversial snus which is not pasteurized at all. Skoal Snus on their website defines snus only as a spit-less oral tobacco in a pouch: the lowest common denominator.
Since the FDA does not regulate snus as a food product like the Swedish Government does, RJRT and Phillip Morris USA are not required to meet any set standards in manufacturing snus.
How they or any American snus is manufactured, what ingredients are used, and how much are used, is pretty much up to the Manufacturer. And unlike cigarettes, they are not required to disclose in detail what substances are contained in the product.
The amount of TSNA's (the cancerous elements naturally found in tobacco) are limited to a very low level by the Scandinavian Snus Industry. Most Swedish Snus's are well below even that standard: V2 Tobacco's OffRoad and other brands of snus have a TSNA count approximately 0.7mcg/g and Ettan Swedish ' TSNA level is approximately 2.4 mcg/g for example.
To put that in perspective, American Chewing tobacco TSNA levels range from a low of 8mcg/g to as high as 129mcg/g, depending on brand!
Since Triumph is made in Sweden, it should be less than 10mcg/g, and considering Swedish Match is the Manufacturer, probably considerably less. But that's as close as we can guess as Lorillard is not required to disclose product information either.
As to Camel SNUS, Marlboro Snus, Skoal Snus, and a host of others suddenly being introduced in various test markets across the USA, we have no idea what their TSNA levels are.
What we do know from documented long-term studies in Europe is that Swedish Men are by far the largest consumers of snus in Europe, yet have the lowest rates of oral and lung cancer than men in any other European country.
But while Swedish Match did manufacture Triumph, Lorillard set the standards not regulated and designed the taste. Apparently, they specified the nicotine levels; a very controversial issue since American snus arrived on the scene about 3 years ago.
A study was done on Marlboro snus which I document in Part 2 of my 3 Part Series: Camel SNUS and Marlboro snus: U.S. Tobacco Users being Made FOOLS of by Big Tobacco. Here is an excerpt:
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."
Since then, Philip Morris has gone as far as publishing, not on the Marlboro Snus Website, but on the Philip Morris Website that Marlboro Snus only contains 3.5mg to 3.9mg of nicotine per pouch, depending on the flavor!
And now the shocking information, undisputed by Lorillard, that Triumph snus only contains 4-5 mg/g. of nicotine instead of 8 mg/g. seriously damages Triumph's other major advantages over it's American rivals; their made-in-Sweden credibility, and will certainly impact future sales. Lorillard still seems to think cigarettes are where their future lies, not snus.
They either don't get it, have no real business plan for snus, have no marketing plan at all, and don't understand cigarettes will be banned in the USA in 5 years, give or take a year or two. They are running out of time.
Susan Ivey, Chairman, CEO, and President of first RJRT, and now Reynolds America certainly did and does. She has a plan and her promotion to the top of Reynolds America shows their Board of Directors agrees and supports her.
Her plan could have gone two different ways: go the Swedish-Style route and not only sell enormous amounts of SNUS, now and when the cigarette ban comes or go the other way: make an inferior, unhealthy, overpriced, high-profit product, spend a fortune on advertising, and try to convince the American public by; some would say clever, I would say deceptive, marketing that "Swedish Snus, Camel SNUS, it's all the same thing: snus!"
Conversely, a Camel SNUS representative, despite having little/not releasing any other specific product information on Camel SNUS, made two very clear statements concerning Camel SNUS to me: each pouch does contain 8 mg. of nicotine and that the product is pasteurized in a way she described as in "a similar fashion to the Swedish".
The second statement, while a step in the right direction, is virtually meaningless as "a similar fashion to the Swedish" could mean anything and gives no indication that the TSNA levels of Camel SNUS are anywhere near as low as Swedish Snus.
But on the first point, she was VERY clear, no equivocation: "each pouch of Camel SNUS does contain 8 mg. of nicotine". Frankly, I am very skeptical based on personal experience. I was sucking down Camel Frost as quickly, if not more so, than Triumph Mint to feed my nicotine habit. To paraphrase Lloyd Benson, I've used 8mg/g of nicotine Swedish Snus. I know what 8mg/g of nicotine feels like. Camel SNUS is no 8mg/g snus.
Perhaps RJRT is using a different scale to measure nicotine. I have no idea. I just know from experience what 8mg/g feels like. If Camel Frost doesn't give me that feeling, then there must be a reason.
And let me make very clear: this does not change my opinion now or expressed in many snus articles in the past concerning Camel SNUS. In Part 3 of the before mentioned series, I am very critical of RJRT, the Camel SNUS Product and especially their marketing.
What it DOES change, sadly, is my opinion of Triumph Snus and especially Lorillard Tobacco Company.
Lorillard seemed to be the only American Tobacco Company to have any kind of respect, not just for Swedish Snus and it's centuries old traditions, but to their Brand Loyal Customers. Apparently not.....just like R.J. Reynolds; just like Phillip Morris USA; and apparently the rest of the Big American Tobacco Companies.
GREED: Profit overiding winning market share by making the BEST possible product instead of the one which will add the most to the bottom line. Reduced Harm? A Quality Product? No.
Increased Profits at the expense of the user is the driver. As their vast experience with cigarettes and nicotine had taught them, it can be a dangerous product, it can be the bottom of the barrel tobacco. Nicotine addiction would over-ride the taste-buds of the users and huge tax revenue would keep the US government at bay.
Apparently, Lorillard, like Marlboro, wants their cake and to eat it to: use their snus as a value-add to their cigarette lines for as long as possible and make sure their cigarette smokers can't make a clean break to snus, or Stock Holders Forgive, use snus as a smoking cessation aid.
With pending legislation and an increasing hostile attitude towards cigarette smokers in the US, they want to keep nicotine-addicted customers using cigarettes as well as their snus; and especially not using snus as an aid to quit tobacco altogether......until cigarettes are banned in the United States within the next five years or so.
Only then will they increase the nicotine content in their snus to keep users hooked on their product which will allow the FDA, which will likely take control of all tobacco products including smokeless tobacco and reduced harm tobacco products (H.R. 1108), to ban cigarettes; replacing the obscene amount of tax tacked onto cigarettes at the State and Federal level with increased snus taxes.
It will be a win for the US Government: Cigarette Odor/Second Hand Smoke is really the issue for most non-smokers. By eliminating that, the Federal Government will largely placate the non-smoking voters and take enough steam out the anti-tobacco movement to no longer make them a serious consideration. At the same time, the tobacco tax money will keep just rolling in.
It's a win for the tobacco companies since they are apparently making a cheap, over-priced, (and with some apparent exceptions) nicotine-poor and certainly non-reduced harm product they call snus or SNUS or Snus (which is simply the Swedish word for Snuff). They will hold onto the 46MM+ American smokers who will be forced to switch when cigarettes are banned and keep their profits and revenue high.
It's a partial win for nicotine-addicted smokers: snus is so discreet: there is no spitting. No one would even know you were using it...at resturants, at bars, in airplanes, at work. No more cigarette breaks needed, especially those dreaded warm office/freezing winter temperatures/back to warm office which causes colds and the flu.
No more cigarette breaks will also be a big win for businesses large and small in terms of productivity and reduced sick-time during the winter.
And for those who opt for Swedish Snus; or if their taste-buds have been ruined already by the American version, there will be the new "Swedish Style" American snus which purports to be manufactured to the same tough standards as Swedish Snus, but with the "American Taste".
Nordic American's Klondike snus; available as both loose and portion snus, claims to be Swedish-Style snus. I say claim because like the other American snus producers, they are not required to disclose product substance levels either. And suddenly, they've gone from saying "pasteurized" to "a process like pasteurization".
But if true, even those nicotine-addicts receive a big win too: Reduced Harm Tobacco, a Taste they like, and either a discreet way to absorb your nicotine or, as some doctors are experimenting with, using Swedish Snus as a way for a smoker to quit cigarettes altogether.
As I've often mentioned, I smoked cigarettes for over 30 years and am seriously nicotine-addicted. Nicotine is more addictive than heroin so it's not hard to get hooked.
Since switching to Swedish snus over a year ago, I not only have absolutely no craving for a cigarette, they don't even enter my mind anymore. And because the overwhelming detrimental effects of cigarettes come from tobacco combustion: inhaled concentrated cigarette smoke; there is no tar and I have no fear of lung cancer from using snus. And no serious concerns about oral or throat cancer because the Swedish Snus TSNA levels are so low. I'm Lorillard's and Marlboro's nightmare.
That's what is so sad about the Lorillard low nicotine disclosure. It also makes me wish I had one of those original free promotional cans so I could compare the nicotine experience between that and the current Triumph Snus.
I would like to believe Klondike snus is as reduced harm as Swedish Snus for the sake of those who have been trained to the three year old American taste, not the over 200 year old flavor philosophy of Swedish Snus: natural, flavorful and real.
If we were talking about cigars, American flavored snus would be White Owl and Swedish snus a Cuban cigar. But the brain's nicotine receptors are more powerful than the taste-buds. Use anything with nicotine long enough and you will get used to it.
Until and unless the FDA regulates American snus with the same motivation, to the same standards, and with the same verification and product information availability as their Swedish counter-parts, I just flat out don't believe US Tobacco Companies.
The funny thing? I've always been opposed to Big Government meddling and excessive oversight in the market place.
Until and unless Lorillard gives a straight and honest answer (meaning independent testing), snus users should assume that while hopefully Triumph snus is reduced harm, it is also very reduced nicotine. You will need to either use more of it than you should or keep smoking while you use it, paying more than you should have to both ways.
The facts on American-Made Snus are starting to add up to more than just deceptive marketing issue. It is starting to look MUCH more serious. For another article.......
The Snus Guru
Reporting from SnusCENTRAL
October 29th, 2008