R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is test-marketing dissolvable products in three cities and says they are designed for adults, but some Senators aren’t so sure, the Associated Press reported.
The smoke-free tobacco products come in pellets or strips that melt in your mouth like a breath mint.
Some lawmakers are calling the products tobacco candy and saying they are designed to hook kids on nicotine and that the government should have the power to restrict sales.
“Tobacco candies are clearly designed to appeal to children through both packaging and taste,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “This is not a safe product. This is not safe tobacco. It is a product that, like cigarettes, causes cancer and kills.”
Merkley and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have co-sponsored a provision in the Senate tobacco bill requiring the government to study health effects of dissolvable tobacco. The FDA would be given authority to restrict how the products are marketed and sold.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on legislation giving the FDA control over cigarettes and other tobacco products. The bill would give the agency power to regulate the content of tobacco products, order the removal of hazardous ingredients, restrict the marketing and distribution of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, clamp down on sales to young people and require stronger warning labels.
“For years, tobacco companies have deceived consumers and marketed products to children – continually trying to replace the 400,000 customers they lose each year to tobacco-related deaths and illnesses,” Brown said. “There is no doubt that smokeless tobacco products are aimed squarely at children. We have a responsibility to protect children from suggestive marketing and dangerous products.”
A spokesman for North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds accused Merkley and other lawmakers of intentionally distorting the nature of the dissolvable products, which are being test-marketed in Portland, Ore., Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis.
“It’s not tobacco candy. That terminology is their terminology,” said David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman. “These are tobacco products. They are made from finely milled tobacco. All the packaging says dissolvable tobacco, they are sold side-by-side with other tobacco products and their sale is age-restricted.”
But Merkley and other critics said the packaging makes some of the products look like cell phones, while others look like breath mints. Words like “mellow” and “fresh” are prominently displayed.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group that has pushed for FDA regulation of tobacco, said dissolvables are likely to appeal to kids because they are flavored and packaged like candy and are easy to conceal, even in a classroom. They also carry the Camel brand, popular with many teens.
“The last thing kids need is another product to start them on the road to nicotine addiction,” Myers said.
Howard, the Reynolds spokesman, said smoke-free products eliminate the problem of second-hand smoke – and dissolvable products go one step further.
“There’s no spitting and there is no litter. They literally dissolve” in a user’s mouth, he said. “We believe this is a positive. And we’ll see what adult consumers think.”