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Still Smoking National Recall Doesn’t Affect Many Spokane Sales

A national recall of 8 billion cigarettes left some Spokane store shelves empty, others full and smokers, well, still smoking.

Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco marketer, recalled 36 products six days ago after finding some may have defective filters that could cause smokers temporary discomfort.

The recall included many lines of the company’s Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, Merit, Virginia Slims and Basic brands.

Spokane resident Chris Gallup has smoked for 10 years, since he was 8 years old. On Wednesday afternoon, he bought a pack of Basics. He didn’t know they’d been recalled. He didn’t care.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Gallup, puffing on a cigarette. “If they run out of Philip Morris cigarettes, I’ll just buy something else.”

It’s not a picky group.

Gallup’s friend, Dustin Thompson, has an identical smoking resume. He had a different reaction to the company’s cigarette problems.

“If they’re in the filter, break it off,” said Thompson, snapping off the end of his butt.

Thompson also could take advantage of a Philip Morris offer to return the cigarettes and get a refund or more cigarettes.

The company says the cigarettes made with defective filters may give off a noticeable odor or have a metallic flavor or other off-taste.

The symptoms sound familiar: eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, coughing and wheezing.

That’s not from the cigarettes themselves, the company says. It’s from the methyl isothiocyanate that could be contaminating the filters.

Such chemicals are the reason that Fuzzy Seagrave stopped smoking domestic cigarettes. He smoked a Canadian brand as he waited on customers Wednesday at the Tobacco Square II downtown.

“I don’t wake up hacking in the morning like I used to when I smoked Marlboro Lights,” said Seagrave, a manager at the store. “I don’t care for any domestics. They’re just too nasty.”

Yet the shop still sells them. In fact, Marlboro, Benson & Hedges and Basic products still took up some space Wednesday afternoon. Seagrave was waiting for one of Philip Morris’ 5,000 representatives to pay a personal visit before the brands are taken off the shelves.

“I don’t even think any of the cigarettes made it out here,” Seagrave said.

Philip Morris sent a letter to all of its 330,000 retail outlets about the recall. Tobacco Square received one Wednesday. So did PayLess Drug Store.

The letter said the company has received no customer complaints.

Despite that, PayLess Drugs pulled five shopping carts full of Philip Morris products off its shelves as soon as workers heard about the recall.

On Wednesday afternoon, seven cartons of Marlboro and Virginia Slim cigarettes sat on the store’s otherwise-empty Philip Morris shelves. They’d been cleared to sell, said George O’Very, store manager.

Michelle Watts bought a pack of Salems at PayLess on Wednesday. She’s not too choosy. She bought Kools last week, when they were on sale.

Watts has been trying to quit smoking since April. She’s smoked for 23 years. On Wednesday, she walked down Howard Street, smoking a cigarette. She said she was happy that Philip Morris decided to recall its products.

“I said they should ban all cigarettes,” said Watts, gesturing with her cigarette. “I think it’s great. If I hadn’t started when I was 14, I wouldn’t have this problem now.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo