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    Vector Begins Omni Production

    Tobacco company claims its new cigarette brand is less dangerous.

    Vector Tobacco Co. has begun producing a cigarette it says has fewer cancer-causing ingredients than other cigarettes. The new Omni brand is expected to be rolled out to convenience stores later this month.

    The cigarettes are made with a chemical treatment that the company says reduces certain cancer-causing elements in smoke. A second product, Omni Free, will come out next year using the treatment, plus a new type of tobacco genetically engineered to contain virtually no nicotine, the company said.

    Vector Tobacco, owned by Miami-based Vector Group, is a sister company to the Liggett Group, the smallest of the major tobacco companies. In 1998, Liggett was the first cigarette-maker to break ranks with the industry and settle lawsuits brought by state attorneys general.

    Cancer-causing chemicals would still be present in the new cigarettes, Vector Group's chairman and chief executive officer acknowledged earlier this year. "While there is no such thing as a safe cigarette, we believe we've eliminated what the health community considers to be the most serious cancer-causing agents," Bennett LeBow said.

    However, health officials and industry analysts have been skeptical. "None of the medical authorities, to my knowledge, have said, 'If we take out X or Y we have a safe cigarette,'" John Maxwell, an independent tobacco-industry analyst, told the Associated Press.

    Vector Group is investing about $100 million in what it calls its "less-hazardous" smoking products, and the company's stock has climbed about 200 percent this year. Omni also did well in "consumer taste tests, scoring equal to or slightly better than the leading premium cigarette," LeBow said.

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