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    Philip Morris Launches "M"

    New tobacco blend available only for the holiday season.

    NEW YORK --

    Philip Morris Cos. Inc. has introduced its new "M" cigarette brand just for the holidays.

    To promote the brand, Philip Morris is decking the halls of convenience stores and other retailers with signs that have green and red paisley backgrounds reminiscent of gift-wrapping paper. One says: "Season's Greetings from Marlboro Country," according to The Wall Street Journal. The brand's official slogan is "A Special Blend for a Special Season."

    The company says it would sell the cigarettes through the end of the year and hopes to lure smokers away from rival brands during the holidays. "It's really intended to create some extra excitement in the marketplace," said Michael Pfeil, a Philip Morris spokesman.

    M's arrival comes as Philip Morris and other big tobacco makers fight to maintain their share of the U.S. premium cigarette market, where profit margins are fattest. Competition has become especially fierce in the wake of sharp price increases related to the companies' $246 billion in legal settlements with state governments, the report said.

    Some analysts suspect that M, which contains a different tobacco blend than Marlboro, won't
    disappear after the New Year. Bonnie Herzog, a tobacco analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, believes that the holiday promotion is actually a market test for a year-round extension of Philip Morris's flagship Marlboro. She points to M's packaging, which is decidedly more hip than festive, and predicts that Philip Morris could try to turn M into a more upscale, edgier offshoot of Marlboro.

    Herzog speculates that Philip Morris might eventually try to position M as a "super premium" brand and sell it at a higher price than regular Marlboro. Pfeil, however, denied that the company has long-term plans for M. "It's a very limited promotional offering for adults who choose to smoke," he says.

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