Dec. 20 2010
Washington, D.C. - It is good news for the communities involved that R.J. Reynolds has decided to stop its initial test-marketing of new, dissolvable smokeless tobacco products — called Camel Sticks, Strips and Orbs — that look, taste and are packaged like candy and are likely to entice children. According to media reports and a letter RJR sent to customers, the company is pulling the products from the test markets of Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis and Portland, Oregon, where the products have provoked outrage among public officials and the public.
Unfortunately the company told the media that these products have been pulled only for potential redesign and may be test-marketed elsewhere in the future. We call on R.J. Reynolds to permanently pull these products and to stop its insidious marketing of tobacco products in ways that appeal to kids and seek to discourage smokers from quitting and keep them hooked on nicotine.
The Camel dissolvable products appeal to children in that they are easily concealed and colorfully packaged, shaped and flavored to resemble mints or gum. These products also have been marketed as an alternative to cigarettes in the growing number of places where smoking is not allowed, which discourages smokers from quitting and truly protecting their health. One ad for these products states, "Enjoy Anywhere. Anytime. Anyplace."
U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) took swift and laudable action by including a mandate that the Food and Drug Administration review the impact of these products on public health under its new authority to regulate tobacco products. Earlier this year, the FDA wrote to RJR seeking information on consumer perceptions and use of the dissolvable products. In its letter, the FDA stated it “is concerned that children and adolescents may find dissolvable tobacco products particularly appealing, given the brightly colored packaging, candy-like appearance and easily concealable size of many of these products. We are also concerned about the extent to which the high nicotine content and rapid dissolution of dissolvable tobacco products may facilitate initiation of tobacco use, nicotine dependence and addiction in adolescents, and may serve as a mechanism for inadvertent toxicity in children.”
The tobacco industry has intensified its marketing of smokeless products as cigarette smoking declines, smoke-free laws cover more Americans and smoking becomes less socially acceptable. According to the latest data from the Federal Trade Commission, smokeless tobacco marketing totaled $354.1 million in 2006, an increase of 53 percent since 2004. While most cigarette brands have stopped advertising in magazines with large youth readerships such as Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone, many smokeless tobacco brands continue to advertise in these publications, most notably R.J. Reynolds’ Camel snus. As with cigarettes, the bulk of smokeless tobacco marketing is spent on price discounts that make these products more affordable to youth customers.
Most troubling, the most recent data on youth tobacco use, included in the Monitoring the Future Survey released just last week, shows a significant increase in smokeless tobacco use among high school students. Among 12th graders, 8.5 percent used smokeless tobacco in 2010, a 39 percent increase since 2006. Even more alarming, 15.7 percent of 12th grade boys currently use smokeless tobacco.
The increase in smokeless tobacco use also comes as some smokeless manufacturers have sought to portray their products as a less hazardous alternative to cigarettes. Rather than reducing the number of smokers, the Monitoring the Future survey indicates that the main consequence of current smokeless tobacco products and marketing is to increase the number of youth who use smokeless tobacco. That is bad news for health because smokeless tobacco is far from harmless. Smokeless tobacco use causes oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, gum disease and tooth decay. It has also been linked to cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach and pancreas.
Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing more than 400,000 deaths per year and costing $96 billion in health care costs. The tobacco companies' flagrant efforts to lure young people to use these deadly and addictive products must finally end.