Officials alarmed by smokeless tobacco push
As more and more states and localities move to ban smoking in public places, the major tobacco companies are responding by marketing new smokeless tobacco products.
In the past week, the nation's two largest tobacco manufacturers, Philip Morris and Reynolds American, each announced the test marketing of smokeless products aimed at smokers who want to quit. Unlike conventional spit tobacco, the new products, named Toboka and Camel Snus, are both designed to be spitless and will be marketed alongside PM's Marlboro cigarette brand and Reynold's Camel brand.
Public health advocates greeted the move by the two industry giants with skepticism.
"I think the companies are desperate to try to find a product that reduces (health) risk," said Greg Connolly, a professor at Harvard University School of Public Health. Connolly said smokeless tobacco poses different health problems from cigarettes, chiefly oral cancer and gum disease. Growing use of such products is "potentially a disaster" for public health, he believes, because it may discourage smokers from quitting.
Taboka carries a surgeon general's warning that "this product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes."
"The warning is well deserved," said Allen Hundley, program coordinator of Baxter County Tobacco Control Committee. "While it is true you won't get lung cancer from smokeless tobacco, your risk of oral cancer goes up 11 times compared to someone who does not use it. Unfortunately, oral cancer is rarely caught in time. Half of all people who contract it are dead within five years, and those who do survive are often badly disfigured after a large part of their jaw is removed."
Taboka comes in two flavors, a fact that alarms tobacco prevention specialists. According to a Harvard University study published in November 2005, "Flavored cigarettes can promote youth initiation and help young occasional smokers to become daily smokers."
Internal tobacco industry documents show that the companies have long been aware that flavored tobacco products have their greatest appeal among young, new users.
"We've made real progress in Arkansas in tobacco prevention," Hundley said, citing the state's newly passed ban on indoor smoking in public places. "Now we have to redouble our efforts to educate people, both young and old, about this new threat to their health."