R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's claims that its reduced-smoke cigarette is safer than other cigarettes is being met with some skepticism.
At its annual meeting Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C., the nation's second-largest cigarette-maker called its Eclipse brand "a cigarette that responds to concerns about certain smoking-related illnesses."
But the Clinton administration, which wants government regulation of tobacco, questioned the claim.
"It is not at all clear that a sufficient science base exists to support a bold claim that this tobacco product may reduce the risk of cancer," Donna Shalala, the secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, said in a statement released in Washington. "Nor is it clear what advice doctors should give their smoking patients who wonder if they should switch to a product like Eclipse."
The cigarette, which heats instead of burns tobacco, lowers smokers' risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and possibly emphysema, according to the company's testing.
"The tobacco industry's long history of deception should give the American public pause," said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer The American Cancer Society. "But the bottom line is that the cancer risks associated with tobacco use are still undeniably great."
Andrew Schindler, the chairman and chief executive of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., told shareholders Eclipse will be test-marketed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Sales will be by mail and over the Internet to customers verified as 21 or older. The cigarettes later will be sold in retail outlets there.
The ads promoting Eclipse will say: "The best choice for smokers who worry about their health is to quit. But Eclipse is the next best choice for those who have decided to continue smoking."
Shalala said much more needs to be known about whether reducing exposure to toxins actually significantly reduces the overall risk of smoking. "Until then, smokers should be very careful about assuming that products like Eclipse are in any way safer than cigarettes," she said.
RJR has test-marketed Eclipse since 1996 in Chattanooga, Tenn., Atlanta and Lincoln, Neb., claiming the cigarette reduced secondhand smoke. Now, the campaign will discuss the reduced-risk claims, RJR officials said.
RJR's marketing literature said tests showed Eclipse smokers will get 80 percent less of many carcinogens than from other cigarettes and that Eclipse causes less bronchial and lung inflammation. The company said tests were inconclusive regarding Eclipse's potential cardiovascular effect.
Reynolds, which also makes Doral, Winston, Camel and Salem, several years ago test-marketed a no-smoke cigarette named Premier, but consumers didn't like the taste.
It typically takes smokers about a week to become used to Eclipse, said David N. Iauco, Reynolds' senior vice president of marketing. But many smokers who switched "say they'd never go back to their old brand."
RJR Reynolds Tobacco is test-marketing a reduced-smoke cigarette that it claims is safer for smokers than other cigarettes.
It says the Eclipse heats tobacco to produce smoke, while most cigarettes burn tobacco.
RJR said its uses heated air in this process:
When a smoker lights an Eclipse, a carbon heat source at the tip of the cigarette is ignited. The heat source continues to burn as the cigarette is smoked, transferring heat and heated air through the cigarette as the smoker puffs.
RJR compared the process to a coffee maker, in which hot water releases the flavor and aroma of the coffee grounds as it passes through them. With Eclipse, the heat passes through the tobacco and forms smoke by releasing glycerin and natural and added flavors from the tobacco.
On the Net:
Department of Health and Human Services: http://www.os.dhhs.gov/
The American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org