This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, January 27, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.
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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Image is very important to one Bennett LeBow. That's why he broke ranks from the rest of the tobacco industry back in 1996. Remember that? And I was covering it at the time. It was pretty revolutionary. Now the tobacco maverick is onto something new and he's ticking off still more people in this industry. He's unveiling a new safer cigarette called Quest with modified levels of nicotine. LeBow thinks it's the right way to wean people off of smoking and onto healthier lives. But in the meantime he's making the rest of the industry sick and mad. Joining me now, the man big tobacco loves to hate, Bennett LeBow.
Bennett, good to see you.
BENNETT LEBOW, CEO, VECTOR GROUP: Thank you, Neil, it's nice to be here.
CAVUTO: Here go again.
LEBOW: Well, first of all, it is not a safer cigarette, it is just a cigarette without nicotine, it's a cigarette to help people.
CAVUTO: But it is in, stages. You have some nicotine in the early stages, right?
LEBOW: Correct. It's in stages. You can help people get nicotine out of their system and hopefully at that point they can decide whether to continue smoking or stop smoking.
CAVUTO: OK. Now what is the draw with this? Taste is a big thing for most cigarette smokers, that if it does not taste, they are going to leave it.
LEBOW: Nicotine is developed in the root of the tobacco plant. And we found a way genetically to stop nicotine from developing in the plant. So consequently the leaf is not touched at all. And the leaf is where the taste is. If you look at our three different brands here, our three different stages, the tar level is the same in each stage. It's all 10 milligrams. What is different here is the nicotine level goes down to zero in the third stage. And the taste comes from tar primarily, so the taste level is the same, just nicotine level goes down.
CAVUTO: But they have done variations of this in food diets, where you start let's say on X number of calories a day, in a week, and then a couple of weeks later the diet, fewer calories still, and then next time, fewer calories after that. Is this really any different from that, because there are still fat people?
LEBOW: Well, this is something that we really believe we hope will help people to stop smoking. Again, I say the intent is to get people to a nicotine-free environment and for them to try and stop after that. The issue is, though.
CAVUTO: You were saying that the industry, Bennett, in no uncertain terms, everything you are doing, I am turning upside down.
LEBOW: Correct. The public.
CAVUTO: Including your old company.
LEBOW: That's OK. The public.
LEBOW: Go ahead.
CAVUTO: I keep interrupting here, what are you doing in effect is cannibalizing your other products, are you not?
LEBOW: Well, don't forgot, we only have 2 percent of the market, so who am I cannibalizing? all the other guys. Most of the.
CAVUTO: Well, you're cannibalizing yourself, too, 2 percent or not.
LEBOW: We have 2 percent, that's correct.
CAVUTO: How much is a pack of these versus a traditional pack?
LEBOW: This is the same price as a Marlboro cigarette.
CAVUTO: OK. So a regular dedicated smoker who loves Marlboro, is going to taste your Quest and say it is like eating celery after you've been eating prime rib, I will go for the prime rib.
LEBOW: Well, Quest-1, though, is like a light cigarette. Quest- 2 is like an ultra light cigarette. And Quest-3 is get you to zero nicotine.
CAVUTO: How long are you on each program?
LEBOW: We don't know yet. This kind of data is being tested by Duke University to find out exactly and then once we have this data, we will be applying to the FDA for approval. But the point of the matter here is this is for people who want to get to a nicotine-free environment. At that point they can decide whether to smoke or not smoke.
CAVUTO: But now usually what the industry does, Bennett, you're kind of a revolutionary in this field, good and bad, they start following you down the road, is this the first or the opening salvo in nicotine-less cigarettes?
LEBOW: I don't think the rest of the industry is going to follow this. They don't want this cigarette.
CAVUTO: Well, they are going to watch you.
LEBOW: They are going to watch me but they don't want it. As you know, when we were trying to grow this tobacco a few years ago, the industry tried everything they could to stop us from growing this genetically-modified tobacco. This is a cigarette that's going to help people hopefully get rid of nicotine and eventually stop smoking.
CAVUTO: We will see what happens, Bennett LeBow, breaking the story here first, the Vector Group. Who knows, this could be something big, he did something big a decade ago, here we go again.
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