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Premier was a smokeless cigarette released in the United States in 1988 by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. It worked by heating and aerosolizing tobacco flavour and was intended to reduce or eliminate the unhealthy side effects associated with smoking, both to the smoker and to the people around the smoker.
While RJR itself questioned whether the device functioned adequately as a nicotine delivery device, activists derided it for its potential for use in delivery of other drugs. It never achieved popularity, as smokers complained about a charcoal-like aftertaste, and although it looked like a conventional cigarette, special instructions were required to teach smokers how to light it. RJR estimated that it would take two or three packs for a smoker to acquire a taste for Premier, but in practice many smokers only smoked one cigarette and shared the rest of the pack. It was withdrawn from the market in 1989, less than a year after its introduction.
It was launched in India in 2002 and failed in 2003.
R.J. Reynolds reintroduced the concept behind the Premier cigarette as the Eclipse brand in the 1990s.
Tylee Wilson was the CEO of RJR Nabisco, the then parent company of RJR. Controversy arose when Wilson told J. Paul Sticht, then the chairman of the board of directors, noticed a new Reynolds building in Winston-Salem. His driver told him, "That's where they're going to work on that smokeless cigarette." Sticht learned that Wilson was hiding this boondoggle from the board of directors for five years, since 1981." Wilson argued that the project would help take back the lead in the tobacco industry from Phillip Morris, who recently took Reynolds' throne. Due to the growing health controversies related to tobacco, Wilson hoped Premier would keep smoking from quitting and draw ex-smokers back to Reynolds. He argued that the project was kept under wraps because it was unclear when the product would be finished developing.
Wilson was brought before his board of directors, some of whom thought the cigarette tasted and smelled unpleasant, but their main concern was Wilson's lack of disclosure. Hundreds of employees, including the chairman's driver, had known about the project, an ad agency was being consulted, outside scientists and suppliers were in the loop. It seemed like Wilson only held disclosure from his board. When addressing his lack of transparency, board-member Juanita Kreps said, "I, for one, absolutely resent that." At this point Wilson had authorized $68 million for the development of Premier, an amount he was not allowed to approve without consent from his audit committee.
F. Ross Johnson, the COO and President of RJR Nabisco would be chosen as the new CEO. In an effort to oust Wilson quickly, a pact was made between him and the board of directors: Wilson would be given a lump-sum of $3.25m, have continuation of his salary, and a bonus of $1.3m until his official retirement at the end of 1987 with retirement pay of $600,000 thereafter.
- RJR's Secret Project Spa - initial development concept of a safer cigarette
- Search For a Safe Cigarette: A History