Tobacco products given new flavors, appeal to younger demographic

Written By Andy Weier

Less than a year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ban on candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, tobacco companies have responded by increasing the variety of smokeless tobacco products available on the market.

The latest product released by tobacco company R. J. Reynolds is Camel “Orbs” – tiny dissolvable pellets about the same size and shape as a Tic-Tac, and in similar packaging. Orbs are made of finely-ground tobacco products and come in mint and cinnamon flavors.

While the R.J. Reynolds’ website displays the message “innovative in our thinking, responsible in our actions,” many people feel that brightly colored packaging and resemblance to candies or breath mints make this new product a potential hazard for children.

“I think it’s morally and ethically wrong,” said Jeanne Beveridge, Registered Nurse (RN) and coordinator of the Student Health Center at Point Park University. “It’s awful.”

According to Beveridge, smokeless tobacco products release nicotine directly into the blood stream through absorption in the mouth, and may be even more addicting than smoking regular cigarettes.

Although most people do not typically think of nicotine as a poison, it is actually more lethal than arsenic. An adult weighing 150 pounds would suffer severe poisoning or death from ingesting around 200 milligrams of arsenic. They would have the same reaction to only 60 milligrams of nicotine.

In 2007, the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study to determine nicotine poison levels in children of different ages. The results showed that based on median body weight, a 4-year-old could suffer severe poisoning – possibly death – by ingesting 16 of the new Camel Orbs.

The other side of this controversy lies in the notion that while these products might be harmful, or even fatal if ingested by children, it is a parent’s job to keep them out of reach.

“It’s probably a bad idea to have them look like candy,” John Hosa, a freshman undecided major, said. “But it’s still the parent’s responsibility to a certain point.”

In a New York Times article about the Camel Orbs, R. J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard argued that condemning the new product was unfair when you consider the great number of other common household products that pose a poison risk for children.

“Virtually every household has products that could be hazardous to children, like cleaning supplies, medicines, health and beauty products, and you compare that to 20 to 25 percent of households that use tobacco products,” Howard said.

The difference is that young children who are prone to mimic behaviors might witness their parents eating one of the Orbs, but will not see them drinking from the gallon of bleach.

Another issue surrounding these new dissolving smokeless tobacco products is accessibility.

Camel Orbs are being marketed as a “cigarette alternative” to be used when smoking a regular cigarette is not an option. While the obvious demographic would be adults who are unable to take a smoke break at work, for example, there is another target market.

The packaging, which could almost be described as discreet, is portable and easy to conceal – a perfect combination for teens that have already become addicted to nicotine. Orbs can be eaten in a classroom at school or at home right in front of a parent without so much as raising an eyebrow.

Additionally, this potential for concealment partnered with high levels of nicotine and fast absorption into one’s system makes dissolvable smokeless tobacco products a vehicle for early addiction among adolescents.

The 2009 passing of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the right to regulate tobacco products, and prompted the ban on fruit and candy flavored cigarettes. However, no official regulations have been set in place yet regarding dissolvable smokeless tobacco products, like the Camel Orbs.

In February, the FDA issued several letters to tobacco industries, including R.J. Reynolds, requesting all of their documented research involving these new products. Based on this research, they released a new set of federal rules and regulations last month, regarding both the sales and marketing tactics of smokeless tobacco products.The regulations are expected to go into effect on June 22.