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Under a Cloud

As the mayor attempts to stub out smoking, a Manhattan entrepreneur tries to start a cigarette company. A pipe dream?

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What, one might ask, has Patrick Carroll been smoking?

The 31-year-old entrepreneur has picked now, of all times, to start a cigarette company in Manhattan, of all places. But he's the first to admit that "Bloomberg's really throwing a wrench into my business plan."

Carroll's company, Freedom Tobacco, wants to do for cigarettes what Starbucks did for coffee: get customers hooked on exotic-sounding smokes from distant places. (Think American Spirit gone global.) Its inaugural product, Legal, is made from 100 percent Colombian tobacco; a second brand, Mzuri, will be manufactured in South Africa. Next month, once they clear Customs, Carroll's sticks will go for $7 a pack at downtown bars and restaurants.

Told of Carroll's plans, the mayor's office notes that Bloomberg is not trying to impede commerce, only cancer. Says Bloomberg spokesman Jordan Barowitz: "Once the law passes, he can sell cigarettes in bars as long as patrons don't smoke them there."

Carroll, a "social smoker," takes a typically libertarian-meets-libertine stance on the right to light up: "If I want to eat McDonald's, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and get loaded on Jack Daniel's every day, that's my prerogative." Before striking out on his own, he worked for British American Tobacco in London, handling brands like Lucky Strike. He's raised $150,000 for Freedom Tobacco and sunk $25,000 into legal fees -- "in line with what any start-up would spend." It's a fraction, he notes, of what Big Tobacco shells out for lawsuits. "Frankly, it helps me every time they get sued," says Carroll. "They have to raise their prices to pay for legal fees, and it gives me a competitive advantage." At the same time, though, Carroll is doing everything he can to avoid lawsuits: His promo material screams IT'S ADDICTIVE, AND IT'S LEGAL.

Bloomberg notwithstanding, the only downside to his business venture, says Carroll, is that women refuse to date him when they find out what he does for a living. "I feel worst for my parents," he adds. He recently moved back in with them to save money. "When friends ask them what I'm doing, I tell them to say I'm in gay porn. After that, saying I'm starting a cigarette company doesn't sound so bad."


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