Is R.J. Reynolds, the massive tobacco conglomerate, trying to get kids hooked on nicotine via new dissolvable tobacco products bearing more than a passing resemblance to breath mints?
Bob Doyle, executive director of the Colorado Tobacco Education and Prevention Alliance, says yes, and this afternoon, he's asking the state Board of Health to pass a resolution calling on the company to stop test-marketing the products here.
According to Doyle, R.J. Reynolds started test-marketing the items under the Camel brand "a few years ago in three different states: Ohio, Oregon and Indiana. And then, around the April-May period, they arrived in Colorado and North Carolina.
"We don't know why they chose here, but they're out there, and they're being advertised as a product that you can use pretty much anywhere, because there's no smoke."
Might one convenient location for consumption be a classroom? That's Doyle's suspicion. After all, the original packaging, as seen in the accompanying photo from the Harvard School of Public Health, shares similar elements with Tic Tacs. And while the products being test-marketed in Colorado, dubbed Orbs, feature redesigned graphics and a new color scheme from the previous iteration, Doyle points out their similarity to Camel Crush, the brand's menthol cigarettes -- "and menthol is the flavor most used by kids. National data says 40 percent of high-school smokers use menthol products."
Old packaging, top, with the newer version alongside a Camel Crush box.
Another change, according to Doyle? "The old packaging used to dispense one Orb at a time. But with the new packaging, several will come out -- and that raises concerns about how it will facilitate nicotine addiction for kids. When kids see a Tic Tac-like candy, they're probably going to put three or four of them in their mouth -- and if they do that with Orbs, they're going to be ingesting a ton of nicotine. Most people who smoke cigarettes probably don't put two or three cigarettes in their mouth at the same time, but with these, a student could be sitting in a classroom and take a handful of them and no one would ever know."
Concerns like these related to medical marijuana edibles fueled HB 1250, a packaging bill sponsored this past session by Representative Cindy Acree. A hearing in support of the measure featured items such as Cap'n Chronic and Pot Tarts -- none of which were ever sold in Colorado, as it turned out.
Of course, RJ Reynolds denies marketing to kids, and touts steps it's taken to prevent dissolvable tobacco from winding up in the wrong hands. But Doyle doesn't buy it.
Dissolvable tobacco products are very compact.
"R.J. Reynolds has a long history of targeting children -- and I'm not just talking about Joe Camel," he says. "In 2006, the largest tobacco companies were found guilty under the RICO act, and the judge, in her opinion, said that not only did these companies lie for five decades about targeting children, but they haven't shown they've stopped their bad business practices."
The anti-dissolvable-tobacco resolution, to be presented at the Board of Health's meeting, taking place at 1 p.m. today in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's headquarters building, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, "isn't legally binding," Doyle concedes. "But our hope is that it will put public pressure on R.J. Reynolds to remove them from Colorado shelves until after the FDA has concluded their review of these products," probably within the next eight-to-ten months.
"The bottom line is, children have been and always will be tobacco companies' greatest source of new customers," he continues, "and we want to let communities and schools know that these products are out there."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Look below to read a draft of the aforementioned resolution:
More from our Media archive: "Drugged driving campaign targets medical marijuana patients who drive stoned."