Adult female buy cigarette online users have proven an elusive consumer group for manufacturers' smokeless/smokefree products, particularly — and especially — if they involve spitting.

However, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. reported recently its Camel dissolvable cheap cigarette online products, which do not require spitting, are gaining traction with females in its test markets of Charlotte and Denver.

Reynolds said the flavored, finely milled discount cigarettes products serve as an alternative to cigarettes, giving adults a discreet option in venues where smoking cigarettes is banned out of concern for secondhand smoke cigarettes exposure.

Reynolds' dissolvable products include:

* Camel Sticks, a stick of pulverized tobacco, with flavoring, similar in shape to a toothpick.

* Camel Strips, tobacco film strips that dissolve in the mouth.

* Camel Orbs, similar in shape to Tic Tacs.

Of the adult smokers who bought Camel Sticks, Camel Strips and Camel Orbs in the test markets during September and October, adult females represented 45 percent of the consumers, according to Reynolds. Of all tobacco consumers, 31 percent of the buyers were adult females.

By comparison, adult males constitute 85 percent of the users of moist snuff and Camel Snus.

"We have seen a noticeable appeal and interest of the dissolvable products with adult female tobacco consumers," Reynolds spokesman David Howard said.

Stephen Pope, an industry analyst and managing partner of Spotlight Ideas in England, said Reynolds may have discovered a niche with adult female tobacco users.

"Clearly the figures for the dissolvable products make for fascinating reading and actually show that here could be a product that, if handled correctly, could well offer an opportunity for a special female-targeted product that could be as significant as Virginia Slims was for Philip Morris," Pope said.

The dissolvable products "could prove to be the first viable smokeless tobacco products for females," wrote Bonnie Herzog, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities LLC. During the early to mid-20th century, female consumption of dip snuff was fairly common in a more rural Triad.

The closest the dissolvable products are available to the Triad is Lake Norman and Mooresville. The products are sold in three mint styles, as well as a variety pack.

Reynolds has not said when the national roll-out of the products will happen.

The dissolvables could play a pivotal role for Reynolds' transformation into a "total tobacco company" that emphasizes smokeless tobacco sales as cigarette volumes continue to decline amid regulatory and societal pressures.

The transformation is daunting for Reynolds considering there are 42 million adult smokers in the United States compared with 8 million adults who consume moist snuff and 3 million adults who consume snus. Camel Snus, a spitless, smokeless tobacco, holds about 70 percent of the U.S. snus market share.

However, about 50 percent of the 1 million U.S. adults who successfully quit smoking cigarettes turn to smokeless products, Herzog wrote.

"The relative risk of these products vary greatly, with smoking cigarettes likely causing the most risk to consumers and dissolvables likely causing significantly less risk," she said.

"Over time, we expect the FDA will play a pivotal role for consumers as the relative risk of these products becomes public."

Howard said Reynolds has no plans to expand testing of the dissolvable products beyond Charlotte and Denver. Reynolds exited test markets in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Portland, Ore., after two years in December 2010.

Herzog's comments were part of an overall favorable review of Reynolds that also noted its productivity gains, the increasing popularity of its Camel Crush cigarette style and the growing niche for its Natural American Tobacco products, particularly internationally. Camel Crush has a capsule that can be squeezed to release more menthol flavoring.

"Bottom line, we believe Reynolds American has transformed itself into a much leaner, more focused, total tobacco company," Herzog said.

"Given the halo effect of Camel and Pall Mall's momentum, the company should be able to generate greater returns for shareholders."

Jeff Middleswart, portfolio manager for the Vice Fund of USA Mutuals, said having the Camel and Marlboro brands in dissolvable products is likely to intensify the debate among advocacy groups.

One set says that smokeless tobacco products serve as gateways for teenagers to cigarettes. The other set sees the products as a way to reduce the risk of tobacco use compared with cigarettes.

"Anything tobacco will create criticism — it's just the way of the world," Middleswart said. "A new product that has the potential to gain market share is going to be a target."

John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said he found it "disturbing that any smokeless tobacco product is now becoming popular among women."

His concern is that the dissolvable products may encourage women to use smokeless tobacco for the first time.

"It is unclear if dissolvables will truly be harm-reducing on a population basis," Spangler said.

"For example, as many as half of smokeless tobacco users also smoke, providing evidence that, instead of aiding smokers to quit, smokeless tobacco actually helps users maintain their nicotine addiction in situations where smoking cigarettes is banned, such as work places, airplanes, etc."

"Then, when they are in situations where they can smoke cigarettes again, they will smoke cigarettes the same amount as previously."

Reynolds has marketed the appeal of smokeless products in those scenarios, to the point of conducting national and regional ad campaigns for Camel Snus timed for whenever a new smoking cigarettes ban goes into effect or with the recent Great American Smokeout.

The convenience factor of the dissolvable products, as well as potentially being less stigmatized in society, are likely to appeal to women, Pope said.

"The ability to light up or even dispose of a smokeless pouch is not so easy," Pope said. "The dissolvable product, perhaps with menthol or other flavored twists, has the potential to be a home-run product for the female segment."

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has called on Reynolds to permanently pull the dissolvable products and to stop pushing tobacco products that he said enticed children and discouraged smokers from quitting.

Myers has said the dissolvable products appeal to children because they are easily concealed and colorfully packaged, shaped and flavored to resemble mints or gum.

Even though the Food and Drug Administration acknowledges Reynolds is targeting the dissolvable products at adults, legislators in some states are trying to ban them even though they are not sold there.

In October 2010, GlaxoSmithKline, which sells the nicotine-replacement therapy products Nicorette and NicoDerm, requested that the FDA take Reynolds' dissolvable products out of test markets.

"Smokeless tobacco products are currently being marketed without clear evidence of their safety," Glaxo said in a statement. The Reynolds products are being reviewed by the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.

Howard said Reynolds has made adjustments to the packaging, marketing and product mix of its dissolvable products.

"The packaging is now larger and looks more like packaging of other types of traditional tobacco products, and is a different color," Howard said. "The packaging still carries language 'keep this product out of the reach of children.' "

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