Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco operating companies are planning to test-market a new type of smokeless tobacco product in Kansas starting in March.
The product, called a smokeless tobacco stick, is designed for smokers or snuff tobacco users looking for a spit-free alternative to traditional oral tobacco such as snuff, a company spokesman said Wednesday.
Top U.S. cigarette maker Philip Morris USA will test-market the product under the brand name of its most popular cigarette Marlboro. Altria’s smokeless tobacco subsidiary, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., will test-market a smokeless tobacco stick using the Skoal name, its top-selling brand.
“We know that about a quarter of adult smokers have said they are interested in smokeless tobacco alternatives to cigarettes,” said Ken Garcia, a spokesman for Altria Client Services, which provides support functions for Henrico County-based Altria Group and its subsidiaries.
“There is obviously an opportunity in the marketplace there with adult smokers, so we want to gain understanding of how this product connects with adult smokers.”
The smokeless tobacco sticks consist of finely milled tobacco that is coated on roughly 2.5-inch-long wooden sticks, Garcia said. About two-thirds of the stick is coated with tobacco. The consumer places the stick in their mouth and “enjoys the tobacco flavor,” as Garcia described it, and discards the stick when done.
The product will be sold in packs of 10 sticks, priced roughly equivalent to a premium moist smokeless tobacco brand, Garcia said. The Skoal and Marlboro products will be sold in four flavors.
The smokeless sticks are the latest of several alternative tobacco products introduced in recent years as Altria Group and other cigarette makers have sought ways to replace declining overall U.S. cigarette consumption with novel products.
Philip Morris USA and other cigarette companies also have moved into smokeless products to provide alternatives for smokers as a growing number of states and localities have adopted bans on public and indoor smoking.
In a statement Wednesday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a major tobacco-control group, criticized the products as “yet another way to get people, including kids, hooked on nicotine and to keep those already hooked from quitting.”
The group called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use its regulatory authority over tobacco products to closely scrutinize the smokeless tobacco sticks.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday exactly how the FDA’s tobacco regulations might affect the sale of smokeless tobacco sticks.
The FDA was granted power by Congress to regulate tobacco in 2009, and the agency has issued rules requiring that new tobacco products or changes to existing products be submitted for approval. Exemptions are made for products deemed “substantially equivalent” to those already on the market before Feb. 15, 2007.
Garcia said the company provided product information that the FDA requires for a product launch. A spokesman for the FDA said the agency cannot comment on product submissions.
Philip Morris USA and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco plan to test-market the smokeless tobacco sticks in “limited distribution” in stores in Kansas, Garcia said.
Citing competitive reasons, he would not comment on why the company chose Kansas, how long the test-marketing might last, or how long the company has been researching and developing the product.
The product is being manufactured at a Richmond-area facility, but Garcia declined to be more specific.
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