I know the idea of tissue traction is likely to conjure up a painful mental image in the mind of most investors, but for Georgia-Pacific (NYSE:GP), it's a truly delightful experience.

The company on Thursday reported a solid first-quarter earnings increase of 29% from continuing operations before unusual items. It posted $0.78 per share, compared with $0.61 last year, and beat analyst expectations of $0.72. The North American Consumer Products division was the star performer. Sporting such notable brands as Quilted Northern, Brawny, and Angel Soft, this division posted a 72% increase in operating profit on a 9% revenue increase for the first quarter.

Paper product companies have been struggling in recent months with increases in the costs of raw materials. On Monday, Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) reported a 2% drop in first-quarter net income and sounded a cautious note about its second quarter when it said that marketing and raw-materials costs will continue to pressure earnings per share. Georgia-Pacific has not been immune to the same raw-materials cost escalation, but its gamble last fall to lead the way with price increases appears to be paying off, despite some falloff in case volume. Whether retail giants such as Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) will be willing to pass further price increases on to their customers remains an open question.

Results were more up and down in the company's other operating segments. The Packaging Division drove solid increases in both revenues and operating profits, but the International and Building Products Manufacturing divisions both experienced operating profit declines compared with the same quarter a year ago.

Debt levels, a key issue for Georgia-Pacific, held steady at $8.7 billion. Last year, the company paid down nearly $2 billion worth of debt, funded primarily through asset sales. When asked how the company intended to deploy its expected 2005 cash flow of more than $1 billion, CEO and Chairman A.D. "Pete" Correll answered, "Pay down debt. pay down debt. pay down debt."

No doubt the mere mention of Georgia-Pacific is likely to cause most investors to scream "asbestos" and run for the hills. Yes, it's true. the company has more than 60,000 unresolved claims outstanding. It's also true that although the noxious product hasn't been used in building materials since the 1970s, new claims continue to be filed each year.

But Georgia-Pacific is undergoing a long-term transformation, out of its roots in the lumber and pulp business, into a consumer products company. It's a tough road, and with the overhanging asbestos liability, I'm not suggesting that Motley Fool readers should rush out to buy the shares. After solid gains in 2003, the stock has flattened out in the past year, and with a trailing P/E of 14, the shares today are probably well-priced. But any company that owns a brand like Dixie Cups, which is not only the No. 1 disposable consumer tableware brand in North America but also the moniker of a grooving '60s singing group, deserves some measure of respect.

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Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte can't get enough of the Dixie Cups' first release, "Chapel of Love." He owns shares of Wal-Mart, but none of the other companies mentioned in this article.