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Marlboro man’s boo-boo, mailing unsolicited NuMarks

During the past few months, some residents of Indiana and neighboring Kentucky received unsolicited packages of NuMark products in the mail. NuMark is the electronic cigarette offered by Marlboro manufacturer Altria, and Indiana was one of the test markets for the product.

The abusive practice was brought to light by Annie Reiss, a tobacco prevention coordinator in Louisville, Kentucky, on the southern border of test-market site Indiana, and the story was aired by Louisville's WDRB television station. Ms. Reiss reports that during the Spring and Summer of 2014, she received concerned calls from area residents who had received packages of electronic cigarettes in the mail. "Most people were not tobacco users," she said. "They were randomly sent out."

Officials at the Indiana State Department of Health added that the practice is probably still going on. It was Indiana rather than Kentucky that was the NuMark test market state.

David Sylvia, a spokesman for Nu Mark, the Altria subsidiary that markets the electronic cigarette, said that complete sets were not mailed, but only batteries with recharging equipment, but lacking the liquid cartridge that completes the vaping product. He claims that the mailing list came from Altria's database of adult tobacco users, and were exclusively individuals over 21 who had voluntarily signed up to receive mailings.

This would seem to conflict with Reiss's statement that many of the recipients were non-tobacco-users. Rob Kaiser, proprietor of an e-liquid shop in Louisville suburb New Albany, Indiana, right across the Ohio River, may have come up with the answer. "There are children out there that get their mail before their parents do," suggested Kaiser, expressing his disagreement and dismay with the practice.

Kaiser's shop, Liqiuid Palace, sells NuMarks. Kaiser says company representatives gave it to him for free. When asked about sales, he shrugs: "Zero in three months." It would seem that the Marlboro Man's e-cig isn't exactly lighting anybody's fire in the Lousiville area. According to WDRB, the product "hasn't exactly been flying off the shelves."

Kaiser agrees with Reiss and other anti-tobacco advocates that mailing such products unsolicited is a dangerous practice, and could easily fall into the hands of children in the households of smokers who had signed up for mailings from Altria.

David Sylvia, on the other hand, maintains that anybody who wants such mailings to stop should simply contact the company and ask to be taken off the list. This hardly seems sufficient when we are talking about the possibility that the products will fall into the hands of children. This would seem to be another illustration of the callous disregard of Big Tobacco for the welfare of customers, and of the desperation with which they are looking to e-cigs as a potential savior, as tobacco shipments continue to slide.