More than a year after rival R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. introduced its Eclipse low-smoke cigarette, Philip Morris USA is readying a higher-tech entry of its own called Accord.
PM is being cautious with the brand, moving it only into a "limited consumer research" mode, according to a spokeswoman, that will include focus groups in Richmond, Va., and other undisclosed cities.
Similar focus group testing will take place in Japan, and the research, PM said, could take "up to a year."
"Because of this ritual change or new way to smoke cigarettes, we will begin this consumer research phase by allowing consumers to use the cigarette smoking system over time to see if there is sufficient interest prior to going to test market in the future," said John Nelson, senior VP-business development.
Accord has been in development for five years.
Although no advertising is initially planned, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, has been tapped to work on Accord-to "help us find the best way to communicate to smokers and help determine potentially what marketing for the brand might look like in the future," said the spokeswoman.
Burnett's job difficult
Burnett faces a tough assignment. Accord is unlike anything on the market and will require explaining.
First, the low-tar cigarette is 62 millimeters long, much smaller than the common 85-millimeter king-size smoke. Second, it can be smoked only by being loaded into what PM calls a Puff Activated Lighter, a battery-powered device the size of a pager that heats the cigarette each time a puff is drawn.
The result is no ashes, no sidestream smoke (although smoke is exhaled) and no lingering odor.
The average cigarette contains about eight puffs. The lighter activates anytime a puff is taken so a smoker can put the cigarette down after one puff and not draw another for hours.
Accord is disposed of in a wastebasket.
Accord also will come with a chip that can be programmed to keep the lighter from lighting, to protect children from smoking the cigarette.
"We are undertaking consumer research on an ultra-low-tar cigarette that . . . addresses the social concerns expressed about environmental tobacco smoke and the potential fire hazard presented by the burning ends of carelessly held cigarettes," said Mr. Nelson.
RJR's Eclipse-a descendant of its original "smokeless" cigarette, Premier-much more closely approximates the smoking experience.
In its test markets of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lincoln, Neb., RJR has struggled with the lightability issue and has developed videos to show smokers how to light the brand.
The company has also opened smokers lounges in Chattanooga and Atlanta malls to test the product in real-life situations.
Accord's high-tech delivery system may spur anti-tobacco groups to petition the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to regulate Accord as a drug, although the American Cancer Society said it hasn't yet thought that possibility through.
"It's sad," said George Dessart, chairman of the group. "It [Accord] shows how desperate [tobacco companies] are to make smoking acceptable in people's eyes."