The fiery debate over dissolvable tobacco products will be stoked further in March when R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA launch new test markets. Reynolds said Wednesday that it has chosen Charlotte and Denver as markets for its second phase of testing Camel Sticks, Camel Strips and Camel Orbs with Camel tobacco consumers.
David Howard, a Reynolds spokesman, said the closest its products would be available is Lake Norman and Mooresville. The products will be sold in three mint styles, as well as a variety pack of all three.
“We hope to gain new and additional insight into our dissolvables from markets where there is proven demand for smokeless products and the Camel brand,” Howard said.
Also Wednesday, Philip Morris said it will test Marlboro and Skoal smokeless tobacco sticks in unidentified markets in Kansas. It is its first attempt at dissolvable products.
Jeff Middleswart, the portfolio manager for the Vice Fund of USA Mutuals, said that having the Camel and Marlboro smoking brands involved in dissolvable products is likely to intensify the debate among advocacy groups.
One set says that smokeless tobacco products serve as gateways for teenagers to cigarettes. The other set sees the products as a way to reduce the risk of tobacco use compared with cigarettes.
“Anything tobacco will create criticism — it’s just the way of the world,” Middleswart said. “A new product that has the potential to gain market share is going to be a target.”
In December, Reynolds exited test markets in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and Portland, Ore., after two years to evaluate the feedback it got from adult tobacco consumers.
At that time, Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called on Reynolds to permanently pull the products and to stop pushing tobacco products that he said enticed children and discouraged smokers from quitting.
Myers has said that the dissolvable products appeal to children because they are easily concealed and colorfully packaged, shaped and flavored to resemble mints or gum.
Legislators in some states are trying to ban dissolvable products even though the products are not sold there.
In October, GlaxoSmithKline, which sells the nicotine-replacement therapy products Nicorette and NicoDerm, requested that the Food and Drug Administration take Reynolds’ dissolvable products out of test markets.
“Smokeless tobacco products are currently being marketed without clear evidence of their safety,” Glaxo said in a statement. The Reynolds products are being reviewed by the FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.
Glaxo’s request strikes at the core of Reynolds’ attempt to create a reputation as an innovator of products that could be less harmful than cigarettes. Reynolds bought a company, Niconovum, which specializes in smoking-cessation products.
Howard said Reynolds has made adjustments to the packaging, marketing and product mix of its dissolvable products. Reynolds took a similar phased approach before its national launch of Camel Snus, another spit-free smokeless product.
“The packaging is now larger and looks more like packaging of other types of traditional tobacco products, and is a different color,” Howard said. “The packaging still carries language ‘keep this product out of the reach of children.’ ”
Philip Morris spokesman Ken Garcia said the Marlboro and Skoal stick products are aimed at giving smokers and moist-snuff dippers another tobacco option. The Skoal product is being marketed through US Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC.
“We know that about 25 percent of smokers are interested in a smokeless product,” Garcia said. “We know a percentage of dippers are as well.”
John Spangler, a professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said that the new Reynolds packaging and labeling “may alleviate some concerns.”
“But many tobacco-control advocates still remain concerned about the products’ appearance — small tablet, stick and strip — that still look like candy,” Spangler said. “This is particularly true of any flavored products.”
Bill Godshall, the executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania, is an outspoken advocate of smokeless tobacco products as a less harmful option for smokers.
“The reason anti-tobacco extremists falsely claim that dissolvable smokeless products are target marketed to youth is because they don’t want adult smokers to switch to these far less hazardous alternatives,” Godshall said.
“Anyone who truly desires to reduce youth tobacco use would never call these products candy, as doing so encourages youth usage.”