RALEIGH, N.C. -- R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is targeting people who resolve to quit smoking in the new year with advertisements suggesting they switch to its smokeless tobacco pouches, a move critics say is an attempt to keep people from quitting nicotine.
The ads mark the company's first campaign aimed at getting smokers to switch to the pouches known as snus, which Reynolds introduced in early 2009, spokesman David Howard said Wednesday.
The carefully worded ads suggest, but don't say directly, that the pouches are a way to help kick the smoking habit. Under federal law, companies cannot claim that tobacco products work as smoking cessation products. But tobacco companies would love for smokers to think of them that way as cigarette sales fall because of higher taxes, smoking bans and falling social acceptability.
The No. 2 U.S. cigarette maker is advertising in major magazines this month its suggestion for a "2011 Smoke-Free Resolution" in some ads that show the tobacco-filled white pouches dropping from the sky like confetti. The ads promote the company's Camel snus -- small pouches filled with tobacco that users stick between the cheek and gum.
"If you've decided to quit tobacco use, we support you. But if you're looking for smoke-free, spit-free, drama-free tobacco pleasure, Camel Snus is your answer. Logon to the Pleasure Switch Challenge and see how simple switching can be. Camel Snus -- it might just change the way you enjoy tobacco," one ad says.
"At this time, there will some that will be considering the option to maybe quit smoking, but not necessarily quit enjoying tobacco pleasure," Howard said. "We want to inform them that here is a product that is an option for you to consider."
The "resolution" ads appeared in wide-circulation magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated and People, Howard said. Two other versions, which specifically address themselves to smokers, appeared in alternative weekly newspapers around the country, he said. Those ads feature the packaged product at the heart of snowflakes or ringed into a holiday wreath.
All three ads also warn: "Smokeless tobacco is addictive."
An anti-tobacco campaigner said the Reynolds ads aim to reorient smokers to smokeless snus to keep them from being lost as potential customers.
"These ads are trying to take advantage of the fact that around the first of every year many people try to quit smoking altogether. These ads aren't designed to help people quit, they're designed to keep people using tobacco," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The Food And Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco advertising, is reviewing the Reynolds ad campaign. The agency is charged under the Tobacco Control Act with deciding if any tobacco ads make false claims.
"The claims made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s advertising and labeling materials are being evaluated by the FDA," spokesman Jeff Ventura said.
R.J. Reynolds is owned by Reynolds American Inc., based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
About 46 million American adults, or one in five, still smoke and about the same number are former smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's down from one out of four Americans who smoked in 1995.
About 3 percent of American adults use smokeless tobacco.
The CDC says smokeless tobacco contains 28 cancer-causing agents and is not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes. But a 2007 report from the United Kingdom's Royal College of Physicians suggests that some smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than cigarettes.
"Since tobacco smoking is driven primarily by addiction to nicotine, but the harm from smoking is caused by other smoke constituents, the rational next-best option is to reduce the harm arising from nicotine use by providing it in a form that does not involve inhaling smoke," the report said.