Tobacco products that look and taste like candy, and have poisoned thousands of children who mistake them for sweet treats, are just the latest in a long line of tobacco goods that appeal to kids. The threat they pose to children is not just poisoning, but an increased risk of addiction.
Smokeless tobacco products poisoned 1,768 children under age 6 between 2006 and 2008, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health reported this week in Pediatrics. These tobacco products look like mints or candy strips, but deliver jolts of nicotine. "We're concerned that a number of flavored smokeless tobacco products are aimed at children," says Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. "They look like candy, they're flavored like candy, and they're easy to conceal."
Indeed, Camel Orbs, one of the new tobacco products, look almost exactly like Tic Tac mints. It's easy to see how a 4- year-old could mistake them for candy.
Poisoning aside, public health officials are also concerned about these new smokeless tobaccos because 90 percent of lifelong smokers start as teenagers. The use of smokeless tobacco among high school students has increased by 6 percent a year from 2002 to 2006, even before candy-like tobacco products hit the market. These new dissolvable products may actually make it easier to become addicted, the Harvard researchers report, because they contain more "un-ionized" nicotine than snuff or cigarettes.
Candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes were banned last September, with the Food and Drug Administration noting that teenagers are twice as likely to say they've seen advertising for these products as do adults. "Marketing campaigns for products with sweet candy and fruit flavors can mislead young people into thinking that these products are less addictive and less harmful," Joshua Sharfstein, an FDA deputy commissioner, said then.
There's no debate about the harmful effects of sweet tobacco products:
Parents need to realize that children may be using new tobacco products that won't leave a telltale cigarette stench on the breath or stains on teeth. Children need to know that all tobacco forms are dangerous. And teens also should know that they are the target of much tobacco company advertising. In short, the tobacco companies treat them like chumps. Who wants to be a chump?
Point your kids toward thetruth.com, a new online game arcade about tobacco industry efforts to manipulate teens, from the American Legacy Foundation. Or if you're more politically minded, McGoldrick points out that raising taxes on tobacco products is one of the most effective ways to reduce use by teens, while also helping recession-plagued state budgets.