One of the first filtered cigarettes to be released in the United States, Kent has faced a rocky path to success over more than 50 years of sales on the US market.
Released by the Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1952, Kent quickly captured market share within the US, helped substantially by the growing acceptance that smoking was linked to cancer and the belief of the time that a filter could reduce, or eliminate, this risk.
The product was heralded (by the company's marketing firm) as "The greatest health protection in cigarette history". The source of such beneficial properties was Kent's filter, a revolutionary technology that Lorillard called micronite. Based on filters in nuclear power plants to filter impurities from air, micronite was marketed as dust-free and completely harmless.
A fact that was not revealed until 1957 (and even then the significance was missed) was that a core component of this new filter was asbestos. It is estimated that 30% of micronite was asbestos, with the remainder being a cotton and acetate blend. To make matters worse, the filter used crocidolite asbestos (popularly referred to as blue asbestos), the most dangerous and carcinogenic variety available.
The smokers of Kents where not the only people at risk. Workers at the dedicated factory for the manufacture of the filters where exposed to large quantities of asbestos, with the contamination being so severe that the men would have a bluish tint by the end of a shift. The wives of the workers where also exposed to asbestos when washing the clothes of their husbands, resulting in not only many deaths of the workers due to asbestos related diseases years after the initial contamination, but some wives also experienced related illness.
The company manufacturing the asbestos added filters, Hollingsworth & Vose saw the risk of their product being used in Kent's filters, and in 1952 applied for, and where awarded 100% indemnity from any litigation regarding the health affects of Kent's filters. Responsibility would be held by Lorillard, and Lorillard alone. Sales continued however, with Kent being a leading player in the filtered cigarette category in 1953.
Research conducted in 1954, and repeated in 1991 reported that the amount of asbestos being inhaled per cigarette as having potential negative consequences. Despite this, it was not until late 1956 that the asbestos was removed from Kent filters, with Lorillard advertising the change as a considerable improvement over an already great product. A Reader's Digest article in 1957 made mention to the asbestos in the original filter, however this important piece of information was ignored and the article was overwhelmingly positive toward the product
The Reader's Digest article caused sales of Kent to increase dramatically, capturing dramatic market share by the end of the decade. However, these sales would not last and by the late 1960s sales of Kent began to drop. Advertisements of the time did not halt the drop, appearing dated and out of touch with the consumers of the time.
In 1977, British American Tobacco acquired the overseas distribution, manufacture and marketing of the products of Lorillard Tobacco Company, including the Kent brand.
By 1979 Kent was the tenth most popular cigarette in the United States, however sales continued to drop over the next decade, reaching double digit decline in the late 1980s. As a consequence of this significant drop in sales, Kent's advertising company BBDO Worldwide was dismissed in 1989. A noticeable indiscretion of the firm was the release of a marketing program in 1986 that contained characters that appeared to be ghosts, which inadvertently cemented the health risks smoking contained.
In the 1980s the brand started to receive severe criticism regarding its use of asbestos in early filter designs, however it was not until 1995 that a success case of litigation was achieved - costing Lorillard $1.5 million.
Lorillard made improving Kent's sales a key success indicator in 1993. Through a combination of increasing the brands product line, modernized marketing and increased sales efforts, the brands decrease in market share began to slow and the financial effect on the company was reduced.
The brand entered music folklore in 2003, with the brand being joked about during the first US tour of The Beatles in 1964 which was documented to film in The Beatles: The First US Tour. The following was shown in the film:
Radio Announcer: Looking for a filtered cigarette that really satisfies?
Paul McCartney: Looking for one?
Radio Announcer: One that will give you the pleasure you want in smoking.
Paul McCartney: I am, yes.
Radio Announcer: Well, look no more. There is a cigarette that gives you the better action you are looking for today.
Paul McCartney: Which one!?
Radio Announcer: Kent!
John Lennon: KENT!
Radio Announcer: ...with the exclusive Micronite filter.
(Kent "Satisfies the Best" theme song plays and John Lennon whistles along.)
Today, Kent plays a strong role in securing Lorilland's position as the forth largest tobacco company in the US. Kent also contributes strongly British American Tobacco's sale volumes, and is a global drive brand within the company.
Along with the traditional radio sponsorship conducted by cigarette brands, Kent was one of the first brands to invest heavily in sports in the early 1980s, sponsoring a weekly column in The Wall Street Journal called "KENT Sports Business".
- Kent Blue - 8mg Tar
- Kent Silver - 4mg Tar
- Kent Gold - 1mg Tar