One out of three teenagers younger than 18 mistakenly identified a new type of smokeless tobacco product as candy or gum in a survey conducted by a Virginia tobacco-prevention group.
Conducted last year by student volunteers with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, the survey asked about 1,400 people, including 728 younger than 18, to identify package images for several types of novel, smokeless tobacco products, along with package images of conventional mints and gums.
About 39 percent of the people younger than 18 identified Camel Orbs as mints or gum.
Camel Orbs are a pelletlike type of oral tobacco that dissolves in the mouth, delivering a dose of nicotine to the user.
Developed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, Camel Orbs are part a wider trend in the tobacco industry to introduce new smokeless products to the market as cigarette sales have declined and as indoor smoking bans become more common.
The smokeless products have been criticized by health officials and tobacco-control advocates, who say they appear too much like candy and pose a poison risk to young children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to review dissolvable tobacco products, and U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., last month urged the agency to pull the products from stores pending more study.
The results of the survey indicate that packaging of the products alone may appeal to youth, said Danny Saggese, director of marketing for the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth.
“It poses a significant risk to youth and raises the possibility of them not only using these products, but using them in places where smoking is now prohibited, and potentially becoming nicotine addicts,” he said.
Of the teenagers younger than 18 surveyed, 28 percent said they would try Camel Orbs based on packaging alone.
Camel Orbs are not available in Virginia, said David Howard, a spokesman for Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds. The company is test-marketing the product in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Portland, Ore.
Howard said Camel Orbs are sold behind the shelf along with other tobacco products.
“They are clearly tobacco products,” he said. “Their sale is age-restricted. It is illegal to sell them to minors. The packages carry the same warnings as other smokeless tobacco products.” Starting late next month, the FDA will require smokeless tobacco products to have warning labels that cover one-third of the front and back of the packages, Howard said.
Christine Hou, a senior at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, said she thinks the novel smokeless products are not widely known among teens, “but it is something [tobacco companies] are putting out there, which is scary.”
Hou and her sister Judy, 16, were among the more than 200 students who conducted the surveys among their peers and in public places between last May and December. The survey results are not a random sample of the general population.
Hou said she thinks the products blur the line between candy and tobacco. While teenagers might recognize it as tobacco, “they might think it is less harmful or not 100 percent tobacco,” she said. “More kids might be willing to try it just because they don’t know what it is truly is.”
Another product identified in the survey was Stonewall, a type of smokeless, pellet tobacco sold by Henrico County-based Star Scientific Inc.
About 35 percent of the survey respondents 18 or younger perceived Stonewall to be candy, mints or gum. Twenty-three percent said they would try Stonewall because of the packaging.
Sara Machir, a spokeswoman for Star Scientific, said she could not comment on the survey without reviewing it, but she said the company’s internal research indicates that the median age of consumers of its products is 40 years old.
Star Scientific also has said its products are labeled for use only by adult tobacco users, are stocked only with other tobacco products in stores, and have packaging designed not to look like candy.
A third product in the survey was Camel Snus Mellow, a type of oral, pouch tobacco that Reynolds sells nationwide. Twenty percent said they would try Camel Snus based on the packaging.
The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth is a state-created, tobacco and obesity-prevention organization funded with 10 percent of Virginia’s annual payments from the 1998 national tobacco settlement.
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