By Aleasha Sandley, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer
ANDERSON â€” Most school campuses in Madison County are smoke-free, but in recent months, students have found a new way get their nicotine fixes during class.
Marlboro recently released Snus, pouches of tobacco that can be placed in the mouth and swallowed (minus the pouch), and Camel is using central Indiana as one of three test markets for its new Orbs, tobacco tablets that can be eaten.
Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, executive director of Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County Inc., said either way, students are getting away with having an addictive drug in school.
â€œItâ€™s going to be really hard to detect it,â€ she said. â€œIf theyâ€™re truly addicted and going eight hours a school day without smoking, this is the way for them to get their nicotine. With all these new products coming out, our kids are going to be affected by drugs right there in class.â€
Michelle Cook, vice chairwoman of Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison Countyâ€™s board, said her eighth-grade son hadnâ€™t seen the new products in his school, but that students had been getting in trouble for smoking.
â€œHe said thatâ€™s something kids would want to use because they wouldnâ€™t get in trouble,â€ Cook said.
The problem, Knight-Wilkerson said, is that both Snus and Orbs contain addictive nicotine like cigarettes, and tobacco companies arenâ€™t required to reveal what other ingredients are in them.
Camelâ€™s Orbs have about 1 milligram of nicotine each, about the same as a cigarette, according to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which makes the product.
â€œWe donâ€™t really know how much nicotine theyâ€™re getting,â€ Knight-Wilkerson said. â€œTo say whatâ€™s in this Orb, I have no idea because they donâ€™t have to put it on there.â€
The U.S. House of Representatives on April 2 passed legislation that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to restrict harmful chemicals in existing tobacco products and approve new tobacco products.
â€œThen weâ€™d be able to answer questions like this,â€ Knight-Wilkerson said.
For now, Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County is reaching out to schools through student volunteers who work with the program. Knight-Wilkerson said students from two local schools told the organization that students at their schools were using Snus.
Missy Morris-McKinney, youth coordinator who works with the American Cancer Society and Healthy, Tobacco-Free Madison County, said she is targeting all high and middle schools in the county, using students in Indianaâ€™s youth Voice organization against tobacco to educate their peers and teachers.
â€œItâ€™s something thatâ€™s relatively new,â€ Morris-McKinney said. â€œWhat weâ€™re trying to do is educate our teachers. We are just doing an awareness campaign.â€
Snus and Orbs both last several minutes, and Knight-Wilkerson fears students will put two or three in their mouths at one time to try to achieve a nicotine buzz. Nicotine is a stimulant, and she worries that the effect can cause racing heartbeats and other health problems.
Snus come in packages that look like some gum packages, and Orbs also could be mistaken for candy or gum. Orbs could be especially attractive to children who might get their hands on them because they contain a cartoon camel imprint.
â€œ(The board was) amazed because it looks like a little mint and it has a camel on it, and we were all very concerned because kids are used to getting vitamins that have little animals on them,â€ Cook said. â€œLittle kids might get ahold of this and think it was a vitamin or a mint.â€
Up to 90 percent of smokers start before they are 18, Knight-Wilkerson said.
Morris-McKinney said the tobacco companies know the new products are ones with which children can relate.
â€œTobacco companies are targeting our youth because they are looking for a replacement,â€ she said, noting that tobacco kills its users every day. â€œKids are more apt to just use something without knowing exactly whatâ€™s in it or know what harmful effects it can have.â€
Orbs are being sold in Indianapolis now, one of three test markets. Knight-Wilkerson expects them to make their way to Madison County soon. Local stores have promotional items for the product, but no Orbs yet.
Indiana often is used as a test market for tobacco products because it has the sixth highest smoking rate in the country and no statewide smoke-free laws, Knight-Wilkerson said.
Even though the products have no smoke, making it attractive for those who are often stuck indoors, Orbs and Snus arenâ€™t any safer than cigarettes.
â€œIf you stop smoking and use this, youâ€™re still going to be addicted to nicotine,â€ she said. â€œThese are just different forms of cancer. We donâ€™t know what weâ€™re going to see.â€
Cook, who heads up Community Hospital Andersonâ€™s tobacco cessation programs, said children who use the new products arenâ€™t aware of what theyâ€™re putting into their bodies, and some of the products could have as much as 300 percent more nicotine than a cigarette.
â€œThe concern at this point is because they have a higher dose, people might end up with more tremors, nausea and vomiting,â€ she said. â€œThe main concern is if kids get ahold of them, they can end up with some brain effects like a seizure or a coma.â€
Knight-Wilkerson estimated doctors could see more mouth or esophageal cancers with the new smokeless products, as well as continued heart disease from nicotine.
â€œWe donâ€™t want smokers to think this is going to help them quit,â€ Knight-Wilkerson said. â€œIt may reduce their carcinogens, but itâ€™s not going to help them quit.â€
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