Hoping to grab a piece of the market, tobacco giant Philip Morris surveyed Detroit menthol smokers in January 1972 to gauge their attitudes about Kool cigarettes and to test their openness to a potential new brand, “Menthol Fats,” according to newly discovered documents from tobacco company archives.
The two surveys found that Detroiters were steadfastly devoted to Kool cigarettes, saying they tasted smooth and were refreshing after smoking marijuana.
“For reasons that these smokers were unable to articulate, Kool is definitely the ‘in’ cigarette among these people, and they are remarkably loyal to it,” Philips Morris Marketing Executive Al Udow wrote in a letter to the company’s new product brand manager, Chris Bolton.
“There is no brand in sight that seems to have the vitality to take over.”
Detroiters had a resoundingly negative reaction to the company’s potential new product, Menthol Fats, a thicker cigarette that would have competed with Kool and smaller market menthols like Salem, Belair and Newport. Philip Morris had a menthol brand, Alpine, but it struggled.
“Some people could not take it seriously,” Udow wrote of Menthol Fats. “Others felt they might be almost embarrassed to ask for them in a store.”
Philip Morris noted that Kool smokers were predominately of the “other” race and in the “lower socio-economic class”
“This was accepted as a normal thing, neither adding to, nor detracting from the image of the brand,” Udow wrote.
One consistent finding was that virtually every Kool smoker questioned by researchers seemed to smoke pot.
“The smoking of marijuana was so widespread among the group participants that it was taken for granted,” Udow wrote.
They reported liking the “smooth” taste of Kools, especially after smoking pot.
“It clears out the cottony feeling in the mouth and throat,” Udow wrote.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.