Mints, Gum, Candy — or Tobacco?

January 20, 2012

Brightly colored packages for products labeled 'fresh,' 'wintergreen' and 'java' just aren't what they seem, youth tobacco-control advocate Judy Hou says.

Picture of Judy Hou

'They're these little packages that you can stick in your pocket,' says Hou. 'They look like Tic Tacs.'

In fact, they're dissolvable tobacco products, and the subject of Food and Drug Administration hearings this week on whether these new smokeless products and the marketing used to promote them appeal to kids and pose a public health threat.

In testimony before the FDA's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, Hou, a 17-year-old tobacco-control advocate from Midlothian, Va., gave officials part of the answer: Dissolvables and other new smokeless tobacco products attract and deceive youth.

Hou is a member of YStreet, a youth organization that fights tobacco use and promotes ways teenagers can lead healthier lives. YStreet's Meltdown campaign alerts the public to the growing threat from new smokeless products, including tea bag-like snus products and dissolvable tobacco products such as Camel Sticks, Strips and Orbs. Between May 2009 and June 2010, the Meltdown campaign surveyed 2,433 Virginians online. About half of those responding were under 18.

About 42 percent of teens thought Camel Orbs were candy, mints or gum based on their packaging. And
28 percent of youth who don't currently use tobacco said they would try Camel Orbs 'fresh' based on seeing its package.

Hou and others from YStreet — group winners of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids 2011 Youth Advocates of the Year Award — already have presented their data to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. By testifying before the FDA science panel, Hou has now given federal regulators a first-hand account of how the tobacco industry continues to target teenagers to create a new generation of tobacco users.

Her message: We won't be fooled again!

Watch YStreet Youth in action: