Tobacco Lozenges: A Trap for Kids?

This week, the FDA is weighing the safety and risks of dissolvable-tobacco lozenges and strips that look and taste a lot like candy.

A riddle for you: Candy is sweet. Kids like candy. If a cigarette was disguised as candy, would a kid eat it? Answer: Yes. Of course. (Duh.)

Okay, now that you have your mind wrapped around that little logic nugget, can someone please explain how candy-like dissolvable tobacco tablets and strips are at all a good idea?

The Food and Drug Administration is mulling over the safety and risks of dissolvable-tobacco products at a three-day meeting this week that gets underway today. Currently, there are just a handful of these kinds of products on the market, but others, including a lozenges and toothpick-like sticks bearing the Camel logo, are in development. (The Camel products currently being market tested in two U.S. cities.) The stuff looks a heck of a lot like candy—both in terms of the packaging and the products themselves—and word has it, the little suckers taste pretty darn good, too (i.e. nothing like tobacco).

In fact, people made a pretty big fuss back in 2010, saying the Camel products were dangerous because they looked too much like Tic-Tac mints and could cause confusion among kids. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which makes the Camel products, issued a statement saying it had taken the necessary steps to keep its products out of kids’ hands, including using child-resistant packaging and featuring labels that clearly state the tobacco content.

Rightly, I think, health experts and pediatricians are worried that dissolvable tobacco products pose a significant risk to kids and teens, who could eat them like candy and get hooked on nicotine earlier in life. I mean, what do you expect when you make nicotine that much easier (and tastier) to get down?

In a fact sheet about dissolvable tobacco, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids states:

The new Camel dissolvables have a clear appeal to children. They look like candy, are flavored like candy, and are easily concealed so could be used easily by kids, even in school, without being detected.

…The products come in flavors such as “fresh” – a minty option – and “mellow.” The supposedly child-proof containers can easily be bypassed by teens and may lead adults to remove extra products from the packages, leaving them easily accessible to children.

Although dissolvable tobacco products are subject to the same labeling and sales regulations as cigarettes—namely, that they have to have health warnings on them and are age-restricted—we all know how easy it is for kids to get their hands on a pack of smokes. So experts fear that the lure of dissolvable tobacco (good flavor! easy to conceal!) will breed a younger generation of nicotine addicts.

The other worry—a very real one—is nicotine poisoning, which occurs when a person ingests more nicotine than his or her body can handle. At best, nicotine poisoning causes vomiting and diarrhea; at worst, it can cause seizures or even death. As little as one milligram of ingested nicotine can send a kid running to the toilet, according HealthDay. Camel says its dissolvable tobacco products contain anywhere from 1.2 to 2.4 milligrams of nicotine, and contends that others on the market contain as much as 4. Imagine what would happen if little Jimmy ate an entire pack of tobacco lozenges?

We could get all Michael Moore here and theorize as to the tobacco industry’s motives when it comes to creating easy-to-take tobacco products like these—but I’ll avoid the temptation. But even if we put aside reports of a declining U.S. smoking rate and flagging cigarette sales, it’s easy to see how kids could get hooked on the products—maybe even by accident—and end up becoming lifetime nicotine addicts as a result. Or, you know, really, really sick.