Five days into a nationwide recall of 8 billion cigarettes, many of the possibly tainted smokes were still being sold, and smokers appeared to be ignoring offers for refunds.
Possibly defective filters in Marlboros, Virginia Slims and some other brands could cause eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, coughing and wheezing, or just leave a bad taste in the mouth, Philip Morris USA said when it announced the recall on Friday.
“I’ve never met a cigarette that didn’t make me do that anyway. I thought that’s what they were for,” said Chris Edwards, a bond trader in Albany, N.Y., who smokes Marlboro Lights.
The plan was for smokers to return the cigarettes for refunds at any store selling the same brand. Philip Morris, meanwhile, said it would immediately seize the cigarettes and reimburse its 330,000 retailers for any refunds.
But on Tuesday, many smokers and stores weren’t going along.
Like many others contacted randomly by The Associated Press, Edwards said he doesn’t plan to return his cigarettes. And some store owners said they would keep selling them until contacted by the company.
“I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” said Art Bazzi, manager of a Union 76 gas station in Detroit. “They did not send a representative or call to make us remove the cigarettes.”
The long holiday weekend complicated efforts to seize the possibly tainted cigarettes. Philip Morris said more than half had been pulled from stores, warehouses and wholesalers as of Tuesday.
About a half dozen customers asked about the recall during the weekend, then bought the cigarettes anyway, Bazzi said.
“If you’re a smoker, you’ll smoke anything,” said Mike Burn, a bar owner in Stamford, Conn., who has switched from regular Marlboro to Marlboro Medium, a milder and unaffected version.
The company is speeding production of replacement cigarettes and hopes to resupply stores by the end of the week, said Karen Daragan, Philip Morris USA spokeswoman.
Philip Morris first noticed the problem on May 19. It wasn’t until last Friday that the company determined that potentially contaminated filters could have reached retailers.
The company said it ordered the recall after learning that a chemical used in the filters had been contaminated, forming an irritant known as methyl isothiocyanate.