Buying Cigarettes and Quit-Smoking Aids From the Same Company?

Sweanor compared cigarette companies' shift to smokeless tobacco to automobile companies that now sell far safer cars and pharmaceutical companies that now sell life-saving drugs but that, a century ago, were "snake oil salesmen."

Altria, the country's no. 1 cigarette company, doesn't quite see it that way, making no claims that its smokeless tobacco products are any safer than its cigarettes.

"If a consumer is concerned about the harm caused by tobacco product, the best thing to do is quit," Altria spokesman David Sutton said flatly.

"For Altria," he later added, "the business is about providing a return to it shareholders."

The reason that Altria bought U.S. Tobacco is because the market for smokeless tobacco has been growing some 5 to 6 percent each year in recent years, Sutton said.

The purchase "was a good opportunity to acquire two leading brands in that category," he said.

Exactly why is the market for smokeless tobacco growing?

Experts say that the belief that smokeless tobacco is better for you -- or at least, less worse for you -- than cigarettes may be part of it. But the proliferation of smoking bans in the U.S., whether it's in restaurants or offices, also plays a big role.

"There's a wide variety of products at a wide variety of price points" that people can turn to when they can't light up, said Chris Growe, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus.

New Potential for Quit-Smoking Products

Of course, there's a difference between cigarette alternatives like smokeless tobacco and the smoking cessation products of Niconovum, which are intended for short-term use.

For cigarette companies, said Connolly, the "true money is made with long-term use -- it's not something that people use for three weeks and then quit."

But, according to Sweanor, if Reynolds does buy Niconovum, the company may find new profit from their products by transforming them into longer-term nicotine substitutes that consumers could use for months or years instead of weeks.

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