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August 1998
Volume 25
Number 4

RETAILER & TOBACCO INDUSTRY NEWS (cont.)

Blazer Corp. Cracks Down on Knockoff Lighters
New York-based Blazer Corp., the distributor of a popular line of electronic lighters, has taken initial steps to stop distribution of what it contends are illegal copies of its Blazer Pocket Micro Torch and a desktop version, the ES1000.

The knockoffs, according to company president Philip Simon, are made in China, are priced substantially lower than Blazer Corp.'s version, and are of poor quality.

Simon said he first saw the knockoffs at a Miami trade show in February. "I'd heard that there were some out there, but I didn't see one until the Universal Cigar Exposition," Simon said.

The company delivered a cease and desist letter to a San Diego, California-based, wholesale distributor at the company's booth at the World Class Cigar Expo in New York City in May. A complaint is also pending in U.S. District Court Southern District of New York against four other distributors.

Others, including retailers who are selling the knockoff lighters, are expected to be added to the lawsuit, according to Simon.

"We have asked them to play fair and go sell something else," said Blazer's attorney, J. David Dainow. "We know who some of the big players are and we are going after them. Our problem is targeting the responsible parties."

Dainow said negotiations were in progress in mid-June to get the knockoffs removed from the market. In the pending lawsuit, Blazer accuses one well-known lighter company of violating a United States patent issued in 1989 to Yoshinaga Prince Co. Ltd., a Japanese manufacturer of Blazer's electronic "gas burner." Prior to 1996, the burner was used primarily to make dental ceramics and jewelry. The company adapted a pocket version when it began receiving orders for its larger torch from cigar smokers.

Simon said Blazer Corp. has the exclusive right to distribute Yoshinaga's product in the United States. Those accused of violating the product trademark for the Blazer Pocket Micro Torch and the Blazer ES1000, a desktop version of the lighter, are advertising visually identical versions as the Lazer Jet Pocket Torch and the Cigar Torch.

According to the pending lawsuit, "The Blazer trademark is instantly recognized by its unique and original design, and possesses an excellent reputation for high quality of construction and operation of its Torch products. Defendants A1 and All Pro are using the confusingly similar designation Laser Jet to sell the substantially identical torch product."

Simon said that some dissatisfied purchasers of the knock-off lighters have tried to return them to Blazer for repairs. "They are being duped," Simon said. "That's not nice. We believe that we make the best lighter on the market. The knockoffs are garbage."

Simon said he believes that two or three importers are bringing the knockoffs into the United States, although no importers are named in the lawsuit.

SJI Group Launches Cutlery Unit
SJI Group, Inc., a leading distributor of premium cigars, announced that its wholly-owned subsidiary, SJI Wholesale, has launched a new unit, SJI Cutlery, offering premium cutlery to both consumer and resellers.

SJI Cutlery offers a wide range of high-quality knives and accessories from leading manufacturers such as United Cutlery, Colt, Tomahawk, Rigid Knives, and J.A. Henckels. The wide assortment of products available include carving knives, utility knives, diving knives, hunting and outdoor knives, collectibles, swords, throwing knives and axes, folding/locking blades, and knives for personal protection.

SJI has also launched a new direct retail website for SJI Cutlery -www.sjicutlery.com. Consumers can browse an online catalog and order merchandise directly via secure credit card transactions.

"As we did with our groundbreaking e-commerce website for cigars, www.sjitobacco.com, we have assembled a large variety of products from some of the most renowned manufacturers in the industry," said J.D. Jenkins, chairman and c.e.o. of SJI Group. "Whether they be a collector, an outdoors and/or hunting and fishing enthusiast, or just someone looking for a pocketknife, shoppers can find an assortment of products to meet their needs."


Bits and Pieces

LYNDHURST, New York -Synergy Brands, Inc., formerly Krantor Corp., has begun shipments of its Gran Reserve premium handmade Dominican cigars to two national supermarket chains, Safeway Stores and Fleming Companies, and Florida convenience store chain, Li'l Champs. The company supplies a custom-designed, acrylic countertop humidor for retailers that displays eight varieties of cigars, as well as a variety of branded, self-serve retail packs containing three to eight cigars.

SACRAMENTO, Cal. - Images of men smoking limp cigarettes, suggesting a link between smoking and impotence, are among the latest ads in the state's $22 million assault on tobacco this year. The 25 radio, TV, and print ads began airing in June as part of a three-year, $67.5 million antismoking state campaign.

TOKYO - Cigar imports in Japan grew 116% from a year earlier to a record 547 million yen in 1997, according to the Tokyo customs office. On a volume basis, imports increased by 33.7% to 54 tons, rising for the fourth straight year. Sales have been increasing in value since 1996m, and the upward trend appears to be holding its momentum. An increase in the number of cigar smokers aged in their 20s and 30s contributed to the import growth, the customs report explained.

PARIS - Following a 4.8% rise in the cigar market in 1996, France posted only a 2.6% rise in 1997, with 1.5 billion units, according to the Revue Des Tabacs. While big cigars are nearly stagnant, up 1% to 76.3 billion units, small cigars rose 2.7% to 1.5 billion units.


SMOKESHOP - August 98