The First Puff: R.J. Reynolds & Co. thought it had it made. The American public wanted a healthier cigarette, and in 1988, RJR was finally ready to give it to them. The company's solution? A smokeless cigarette. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it was.
After spending around $1 billion to develop and market the Premier smokeless cigarette, not even R.J. Reynolds' chief executive could stand it. His exact quote? Unfortunately, we can't print it in mixed company, but let's just say he wasn't thrilled with the flavor. And that wasn't the only problem. Taking a drag off a Premier wasn't so much a matter of breathing in as it was producing a vacuum force roughly equivalent to the strength of a black hole. Add to that rumors that the Premier could be hollowed out and used as a handy crack pipe, and after a mere four months in test markets, RJR pulled the product.
Can't Have Just One: Amazingly, the company tried the same trick again in 2000, unveiling a new smokeless cigarette, this time called Eclipse. Pitched as the "next best choice" to quitting, independent studies revealed that it actually produced more toxins than regular, low-tar cigarettes. Even worse, another study revealed that 99 out of every 100 Eclipses had glass fibers in the filter that could easily find their way into a smoker's lungs or esophagus.
---This summer, mental_floss is re-running parts of "The 20 Greatest Mistaikes in History," Maggie Koerth-Baker's cover story from March-April 2007. To order the back issue, click here. To see other installments in this series, click here.