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Official Claims Low Sales Axed RJR Reduced-Risk Cigarette

WASHINGTON -- R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. developed a cigarette intended to reduce disease-causing chemicals in the 1990s, then dropped it because it wasn't accepted by smokers, the company's chief of product development testified yesterday, according to Bloomberg News.

Jeffery Gentry, who led the team that developed a reduced-risk cigarette known internally as EW, said he believed until at least 1999 that the product, which had a carbon-scrubber filter and a low-nitrogen tobacco blend, should be on the market.

"I believed that EW did pose less risk," Gentry told Judge Gladys Kessler of U.S. District Court in the government's $280 billion racketeering case against Reynolds and other U.S. cigarette-makers.

The Justice Department claims that cigarette companies conspired to resist the development and marketing of safer products to avoid admitting to the public that smoking is dangerous.

The suppression of safer cigarettes is part of a larger, 50-year scheme by the industry to defraud smokers, the government said.

In laboratory testing, EW's carbon filter reduced chemicals suspected of causing disease, including carbonyls, hydrogen cyanide and benzene, Gentry said in written testimony submitted earlier.

Reynolds test-marketed six versions of the EW cigarette in Oklahoma under the brand name Winston Select from April 1995 through mid-1997, Gentry testified. It sold Winston Select without the EW features in the rest of the United Sates. EW's taste was rated "good" by smokers who tried it in tests, Gentry said, though they ranked it below their usual brands.

Gentry, called by the government as a reluctant witness, testified that Reynolds never sold EW nationally because of problems with smoker acceptance and questions about the products' health benefits.

An attorney for the Justice Department, Joel Schwartz, used Reynolds documents to challenge that conclusion. Schwartz showed Gentry a 1999 memorandum in which he had written that EW was accepted by consumers when it was offered for sale in Oklahoma, even though it drew mixed reviews in taste tests.

Under questioning by Reynolds attorney Peter Bierstecker, Gentry said that the company determined that real-world smokers puffed EW cigarettes deeper and more frequently than test machines, reducing the benefits observed in the lab. Gentry said he later reviewed test market data showing that Winston Select's sales had fallen off within a year of its introduction.
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