In response to widespread adoption of "no smoking" policies nationwide, the tobacco industry has upped the ante by releasing a host of new smokeless tobacco products. Some of these products look like candy, some like mints, and others like toothpicks -- but the fact remains, tobacco is addictive and causes cancer even when it is disguised. The packaging of these new products is particularly troubling as many of the products are copycats of candy and breath mint packaging.
In 2009, Utah Department of Health's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program conducted a survey of teens regarding these new products and found that 43 percent of respondents aged 18 years or younger said that packages for some of the new tobacco products contained mints.
Additionally, 46.2 percent responded that they would use some of these tobacco products based on the packaging alone.
This is troubling, as the tobacco industry in 2008 alone released 233 new tobacco products, including 151 new cigarette products and 43 new chewing tobacco products.
These dangerous products may soon make their way to convenience store shelves in Utah, as flavors are a major driver of tobacco sales in the youth market.
Youth want strong and intense flavors; they like products twice as sweet as adults. Some brands of smokeless tobacco contain 700 percent more wintergreen flavorant than candy.
Teens are twice as likely as adults to recall seeing flavored products or their advertising. Nearly 80 percent of adult smokers became regular smokers before the age of 18 and 90 percent do so before leaving their teens.
In addition to attracting new users, these new products may entice current users to "double-up" on tobacco in its many forms, sustaining addiction.
According to a recent report released from the CDC, Utah has the fifth-highest rate of dual usage in the country at 10.9 percent. Studies show that young smokers choose flavored products over cigarettes because they "taste better" and are perceived to be "safer."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that these products have not undergone safety testing. Moreover, these products may contain up to three times the amount of nicotine than one cigarette, levels that could potentially kill a child or make current tobacco users susceptible to nicotine poisoning. Nicotine poisoning in children shows up in different ways. In mild cases diarrhea, nausea, agitation, and vomiting can occur. In severe cases, abdominal pain, tachycardia, coma, and death can occur. In 2009, more than 7,581 calls to poison control centers involved doses of tobacco to kids under the age of five.
The use of dissolvable tobacco products is not a safe alternative to cigarettes, and there is no evidence showing that they help people quit smoking. The packaging and advertising clearly appeal to children, and are dangerous, potentially lethal products.
Kristi Jones and Anna Guymon are health educators with the Weber-Morgan Health Department.