“It took a type of product that you can’t legally advertise anymore to create the ideal influencer-marketing campaign,” Mr. Stewart, 43, said in an interview.
Hestia, still little known compared with its Big Tobacco rivals, has found a different approach, too. Mr. Sley said he gave cigarettes to popular New York residents and event hosts in hopes that they would decide to mention them on social platforms. (So long as the person isn’t paid to promote the product, that doesn’t violate federal or social media rules.) On Instagram, a somewhat unlikely place for a cigarette brand to be, Hestia’s account is a collage of memes, reshared posts from other people’s pages, YouTube reviews and sightings in Paper magazine slide shows.
“I can’t pay for ads, so seeding them to the people with the most valuable megaphones” is how he markets his product, Mr. Sley, 39, said. “Visibility is meaningful regardless of location, and obviously New York and L.A. are two places that are very valuable.”
Mr. Sley doesn’t live in either of those places — he lives in Raleigh, N.C. — but he said he had tapped into their scenes through figures like Mark Hunter, the well-known party photographer better known as the Cobrasnake, and through podcasts like “How Long Gone” and “Red Scare.” The result is a winding network of people who all have one thing in common: They receive cartons of free Hestias.
In February, Meg Superstar Princess, the blogger, was featured in Perfectly Imperfect, a newsletter in which fellow “it” girls, influencers, celebrities and artists share a selection of lifestyle and product recommendations. “Smoking cigarettes is extremely important and cool,” she wrote. “Vaping is only acceptable on like airplanes or at work … Lately I’ve been smoking Hestia Cigarettes, they’re not avail in NYC yet but I get them shipped special (free!) to me.”
Cigarette use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, responsible for cancers in almost every corner of the body and nearly one out of every five deaths. Nationwide, smoking has declined drastically over the past decades, down to its current record low. Last year, around 11 percent of adults reported smoking cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.