Introduced as a branded low tar cigarette in 1963 by the Gallaher Group, Silk Cut has established itself as one of the leading brands of cigarette in the United Kingdon and Europe.
Designed by Gallaher to fill a market gap for mild cigarettes, the brand was release in time to capture market share of the many smokers wishing for a 'healthier' cigarette. The brand's low tar and reduced nicotine attracted many of these smokers aiming for a safer alternative, and this growth continued despite warnings that reduced tar does not necessarily mean reduced risk.
Interestingly, the company did not take the normal route to reduce the cigarette's tar content. Typically, to reduce strength a tobacco company will increase the amount of holes in a cigarette to cause more air to be mixed with smoke. In the case of Silk Cut, the amount of holes was increase, but another step was taken. Only 75% of the cigarette is tobacco, the other 25% is a cellulose based material called Cytrel.
Cytrel is an interesting substance. Development began for a replacement for tobacco in cigarettes began in the 1950s. The reason for this was to reduce 'undesirable tobacco smoke components' present in cigarettes (which also make the tobacco industry's claims later on very interesting). Cyrel was developed by Celanese Fiber Marketing Company.
The fiber went through a difficult development, with scientists struggling to achieve acceptable smoking, taste and manufacturing properties. However, the product was of a lower density of tobacco and useful as a bulking agent so development continued. After five revisions the Celanese Fiber Marketing Company released Type 308 to the market.
An interesting tidbit of information is that while Silk Cut was released in 1964, animal testing for Cytrel Type 308 was not completed until 1970. An interesting result was that survival time for mice exposed to the tobacco smoke of 75% tobacco and 25% cytrel was less than 100% tobacco smoke. Despite this result, in testing Type 308 did reduce some cancer causing risks.
Growth of Silk Cut continued rapidly throughout the 1970s and 80s largely due to the firm's imaginative advertising campaign. Due to severe restrictions in British print advertising (at the displaying the product was illegal) the brand was marketed using increasingly abstract forms, sharing many similarities with advertising Benson + Hedges received during the period (both being Gallaher brands).
Playing on the brand's white and purple packaging, the advertisements contained many striking images of purple silk being damaged by all manner of scissors, knives and (rather ironically) surgical instruments. Early in the 1990s the advertisements ceased due to a total tobacco advertising ban coming into effect in the United Kingdom.
In 1994 Gallaher Group sold the rights of the brand to British American Tobacco for all markets outside of the UK and western Europe. This was marketed as an attempt to allow Gallaher to focus on meeting the demands of Europeans.
To increased market share, Silk Cut also released cigarettes with tar levels further reduced (Ultra Low contained 0.1mgs). Early in 2000 the brand released the first British cigarette to be in a slim configuration targeted towards female smokers.
Despite being the leading cigarette brand in the UK in 1990, this market share was reduced to increasing taxes on cigarettes and the rise of budget brands on the market. However, Silk Cut continues to be the leading reduced tar cigarette on the UK market.
As direct advertising became illegal in the UK, many tobacco companies turned to sports advertising. The brand sponsored the Silk Cut Challenge Cup, which was a rugby league championship until 2001 when such sponsorships where banned.