Skip to main content

Consumer Product Graveyard: Premier Cigarettes

Premier cigarette ad

R.J. Reynolds put nearly a billion dollars into development of a safer cigarette — surely the modern equivalent of building a better mousetrap. It was on the market for less than a year.

Premier really was different. The tobacco was encapsulated in aluminum pellets, and heated rather than burned. A piece of carbon was ignited and smokers drew hot air across the nicotine pellets and inhaled the result. With much less smoke than an ordinary cigarette, Premier actually did deliver the nicotine smokers craved with less of the other chemical compounds that add to the danger of cigarette smoking.

Lighting a Premier was different from lighting an ordinary cigarette, and the makers included an instruction booklet in each pack to help new users with this aspect of the cigarette. Contemporary reports say that smoking a Premier required more effort than an ordinary cigarette.

The taste was different from ordinary cigarettes, too, although the taste of one cigarette differs from another in any case. Early reviews were negative about the taste and the smell. Since Premium couldn’t be advertised as being less dangerous than other cigarettes without admitting that other cigarettes were dangerous, the ads focused on how it provided a “cleaner” smoke — not motivating enough to make up for a less satisfying experience.

The main problem was that it required a change of habit. Smoking a Premier felt different. There was little smoke and no ashes. The cigarette didn’t burn down. The puff and flick action was gone.

Consumers can certainly be encouraged to change their habits. Look how many people now buy coffee on the way to work instead instead of making a pot at home, how many drink sodas instead of morning coffee, and how many will happily shift from caramel mochaccino to pumpkin latte as the leaves begin to turn color.

Cigarettes? That’s something else entirely. Reynolds determined that two or three packs of Premier cigarettes would get most smokers happy with the new product, but smokers wouldn’t keep trying through two or three packs.

While some people enjoy doing new things and trying new technologies, most people find change stressful; there has to be a fairly strong motivation to make a change. People will change habits because their friends do, because they see many other people making the change, because they experience immediate negative consequences from an action, or (with effort) because they believe the change will benefit them in the long run.

Without these motivations, with the added difficulty of change caused by the physically and psychologically addictive nature of smoking, and with few early adopters to push the change along, Premier failed.

If your innovative product will require people to make changes in their routines, you’ll have to have a strong plan to motivate consumers to make those changes. Without such a plan, your chances of success will . . . go up in smoke.