Judy and Tom Sartain were heading back from the beach when they stopped at a convenience store in Sumter, South Carolina. And there, in the window, was a sign that floored them both.
It was promoting Kingsport Cigarettes, $2.59 a pack, $24.99 a carton.
Kingsport Cigarettes? They are both Kingsport natives and they’d never seen or heard of such a thing.
So Tom sent me a photo, knowing that would get me on the case. It did.
Kingsport brand cigarettes are manufactured by the Liggett Group – formerly Liggett and Myers – of Mebane, North Carolina. At one time Liggett manufactured the popular Chesterfield and L&M brands. Today the company sells 16 lesser known brands, including Eve, Quest, Pyramid, and, yes, Kingsport.
I got in touch with the Liggett people because I had two questions: one, is the cigarette named after our town, and two, why can’t you buy Kingsport cigarettes in Kingsport? The second seemed to me to be a gigantic failure of marketing.
Liggett Consumer Relations representative Mary Bell told me, “The Kingsport name did not come from any association with Kingsport, Tennessee. It was chosen as a brand name in 1993. It came from either a list of available trademarks owned by Liggett or may have been one of the names our agency at the time provided during the process of developing our ‘control label’ program.”
Control Label brands – Liggett owns five - are sold in partnership with distributors and retailers who are granted rights to sell those brands.
“Currently, Kingsport (brand) has protected rights to be sold by convenience store chain groups that operate stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.”
But not in Tennessee and especially not in Kingsport.
“Our Sales Department is checking to see if Tennessee is an open area where Kingsport could be sold. If it is, they will see if there is an opportunity in the Kingsport marketplace.”
According to Liggett’s online store locator, there are 20 stores within 10 miles of downtown that carry Liggett brands. If I were one of those local Liggett retailers, I’d talk to my distributor about Kingsport brand cigarettes.
Even a non-smoker like me thinks that Kingsport cigarettes should be sold somewhere in Kingsport.