- Tobacco farmer in a field of drying plants, not the new
genetically engineered plants. For a smoker who enjoys cigarettes, the
downside has always been the nicotine and carcinogens. Coming soon to
a store near you, a cigarette that may offer neither.
- Beginning this fall, Vector Tobacco of Durham, North
Carolina, plans to market Omni, a reduced carcinogen cigarette. Vector
spokesman, Paul Caminiti, says the company has developed a process to treat
tobacco that significantly reduces nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons (PAHs), considered to be the major cause of cancer from cigarettes.
- And early next year, Vector plans to introduce the first
genetically modified (GM) tobacco that the company says produces no nicotine.
Omni Nicotine Free will also have reduced carcinogens.
- "We think there is a potentially a very big market
for these," says Caminiti. "The nicotine free may not appeal
to younger people, but it may appeal to the older smoker who wants to get
on the road to quit smoking."
- Focus group testing has shown that smokers liked the
taste of the tobacco and found they were smoking fewer cigarettes. "They
felt they were more in control of their smoking," says Caminiti.
- The genetically modified tobacco plant was developed
by Vector with the help of Dr. Mark Conkling, former North Carolina State
molecular biologist and researcher, who now works for Vector.
- Beginning in the mid-1990s, Dr. Conkling identified the
gene that produces nicotine in the tobacco plant's roots. He succeeded
in shutting down the nicotine gene and blocking formation of the nicotine,
the company says, without effecting the viability of the plant or the taste
of the cigarette.
- Genetically modified tobacco makes for strange bedfellows.
In Pennsylvania, Amish farmers are growing it this summer. Farmers in Illinois,
Mississippi, and Louisiana are also growing the new crop this summer.
- However, the premier tobacco growing state, North Carolina,
has so far shunned genetically modified tobacco. "A lot of companies
like Philip Morris are rejecting buying genetically modified tobacco, afraid
if it gets into the chain with other tobacco, not genetically modified,
it could ruin the tobacco industry, what's left of it now," says Charlie
Zink of the Farm Service Agency office in Madison County, North Carolina.
- A plant in Roxboro, North Carolina, is being refurbished
to produce the "Omni Nicotine Free" brand. Vector chose separate
production facilities to segregate the no-nic tobacco from the traditional
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set guidelines
for growing genetically modified tobacco that require a buffer zone of
more than 1,000 feet between the genetically modified variety and traditional
tobacco. Flowers must be removed from the GM tobacco to avoid cross-pollination
in the field with non-GM tobacco.
- Vector is finding it easier to grow tobacco than to develop
a cure for tobacco addiction. The company intends to eventually submit
to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, the Omni Nicotine
Free brand as what the company is calling a "market cessation device."
- "A new cigarette doesn't need to go through the
FDA, but a nicotine patch does," says Caminiti.
- Vector is part of Vector Group, a publicly traded company
that also owns the Liggett Group, which is the smallest of the five major
tobacco companies. With two percent of the U.S. market, Liggett sells mostly
discount cigarettes such as Pyramid, and Tourney. Eve is the only branded
cigarette Liggett sells.
- Does the move to a no-nicotine tobacco spell suicide
for the company? The Vector spokesman says no, in fact, Vector president,
Bennett LeBow is morally driven to do the right thing. "If tobacco
companies are telling the truth about not marketing to kids, the industry
will be out of business soon anyway," says Caminiti.
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