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Objective: To describe tobacco industry consumer research to inform the development of more "socially acceptable" cigarette products since the 1970s.
Methods: Analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents.
Results: 28 projects to develop more socially acceptable cigarettes were identified from Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, British American Tobacco, and Lorillard tobacco companies. Consumer research and concept testing consistently demonstrated that many smokers feel strong social pressure not to smoke, and this pressure increased with exposure to smoking restrictions. Tobacco companies attempted to develop more socially acceptable cigarettes with less visible sidestream smoke or less odour. When presented in theory, these product concepts were very attractive to important segments of the smoking population. However, almost every product developed was unacceptable in actual product tests or test markets. Smokers reported the complete elimination of secondhand smoke was necessary to satisfy non-smokers. Smokers have also been generally unwilling to sacrifice their own smoking satisfaction for the benefit of others. Many smokers prefer smoke-free environments to cigarettes that produce less secondhand smoke.
Conclusions: Concerns about secondhand smoke and clean indoor air policies have a powerful effect on the social acceptability of smoking. Historically, the tobacco industry has been unable to counter these effects by developing more socially acceptable cigarettes. These data suggest that educating smokers about the health dangers of secondhand smoke and promoting clean indoor air policies has been difficult for the tobacco industry to counter with new products, and that every effort should be made to pursue these strategies.