A new generation of smokeless, flavored tobacco products that look like breath mints or breath-freshening strips may be life-threatening for children who mistake them for candy, according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Nicotine is a poison, and now we’re seeing smokeless tobacco products that look like Tic Tacs or M&M’s, which parents can leave on the counter and children can be attracted to,” says Greg N. Connolly, D.M.D., the director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts.
The new products — currently being test-marketed in three cities — include Camel Orbs, which resemble breath mints; Camel Sticks, which are about the size of a toothpick and dissolve in the mouth; and Camel Strips, which are similar to breath-freshening strips. Small, teabag-like “snus” — pouches filled with tobacco that are placed between the upper lip and gum — are also a potential hazard, according to the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics.
These products are not smoking cessation aids; rather, they are marketed as a nicotine alternative in places where smoking isn’t allowed.
Although children in the study were most often poisoned from eating cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in general, the researchers single out the new, dissolvable products — especially Camel Orbs — as a “major concern.” Orbs are available in cinnamon and mint flavors and could easily be mistaken for candy, the researchers say.
“The candy form can only mean trouble, particularly for children and infants,” says Connolly. “And snus are attractive, flavorful, and easily ingested by an infant or child.”
R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard says that the packaging of Camel Orbs and the other dissolvable products is “100 percent child-resistant in accordance with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards” and bears a label that says “Keep Out of Reach of Children.” Adults, he adds, should ensure that “children do not have access to any tobacco products — including dissolvable tobacco products.”
Still, the researchers say, the pellets could find their way into children’s mouths. Nicotine poisoning can cause nausea or vomiting, and severe cases can result in convulsions, respiratory failure, and even death. Just under 0.5 milligrams of nicotine per pound of body weight is the minimum lethal dose for children, according to Connolly.
Regulators, he adds, “must ask tough questions about who is at risk from these products, and who we are trying to help with them.”
The FDA has broad authority to regulate tobacco products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law last June. Later that fall, the agency banned the sale of candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes.
While accidental infant poisonings are certainly cause for concern, purposeful ingestion of smokeless tobacco products by kids and teens may be a larger problem, Winickoff points out. As the study notes, the use of smokeless tobacco products among adolescents increased 6 percent per year from 2002 to 2006.
The attorneys at Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson urge the FDA to regulate these products under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. These products unnecessarily put children at risk. We also urge parents to talk to their children and teens about the hazards of these products.
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