Smokeless tobacco on the table in test cities

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The FDA regulates tobacco products, but it s still determining how to categorize what are known as dissolvable tobacco products. Three different forms of these are currently manufactured by R.J. Reynolds under the Camel brand name, all made from finely ground, flavored tobacco and delivering less nicotine than a cigarette. Camel Orbs are roughly the shape and size of a breath mint, Camel Sticks resemble a toothpick, and Camel Strips fit in a strip over the tongue. The marketing and health effects of all of these products first tested in Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN; and Portland, OR, and now in Denver, CO and Charlotte, NC are being studied by the FDA, which will report to Congress in March of 2012.

Critics of these smokeless tobacco products worry that they will merely provide an unhealthy substitute for smokers, or else just serve as a crutch in smoke-free zones. Others worry that children will view the products as candy and that these smokeless options will become a gateway to cigarette smoking. Precisely because of these misconceptions, Dr. Ross very much wishes that tobacco companies were legally permitted to inform smokers of the greatly reduced health risks associated with smokeless tobacco, not to mention its use as a smoking cessation aid.

R.J. Reynolds has marketed these products by urging smokers to switch from cigarettes, notes ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross, because this is as close as they can legally come to telling the truth about quitting smoking with smokeless products. And as for children mistaking the products for candy: the smokeless tobacco products are sold on the same shelves as other tobacco products, with the same age requirements. The alleged risk of children seeing these products as candy is not a valid reason to deny these products to smokers who can actually save their lives by switching, says Dr. Ross. Legal and parental safeguards are sufficient to prevent kids from ingesting these products.

Public hearings are set to inform the people in these test market cities of the health effects of the dissolvable tobacco products. Dr. Ross hopes these hearings will serve to dispel the misconceptions about smokeless tobacco. Over 400,000 people die every year of smoking-related illnesses, he says. Recent studies suggest that number could be cut in half if more of those smokers were aware of smokeless tobacco.

ACSH's Dr. Josh Bloom adds, I don t even know why we re even having this conversation. The issue boils down to one thing the delivery of sufficient nicotine to the bloodstream to curb the urge to smoke. The method of delivery is irrelevant, he says, since no other method is as harmful as smoking itself. Some critics say that use of alternative products is simply substituting one addiction for another. This argument is disingenuous. Even if everyone addicted to cigarettes became addicted to an alternative nicotine product and this won t happen hundreds of thousands of lives would still be saved each year. This is the bottom line.