Friday, April 23, 2010

R.J. Reynolds Accused of Using Camel Orbs to Lure Kids

According to an article in the New York Times, a number of tobacco control researchers are accusing R.J. Reynolds of marketing Camel Orbs to youths to entice them to use tobacco and addict them to nicotine.

According to the article: "R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker behind Philip Morris, is test marketing the product, Camel Orbs, along with other dissolvable tobacco products, in three cities. It is part of a broad industry trend to create smokeless products in response to declining cigarette use and the rise of smoke-free air laws. The study says Orbs, pellets made of finely ground tobacco with mint or cinnamon flavoring, are packed with nicotine and can poison children and lure young people to start using tobacco. The pellets dissolve in the mouth, like breath mints. “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and to make it look like a piece of candy is recklessly playing with the health of children,” the lead researcher, Gregory N. Connolly, a professor with the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an interview." ...

"Dr. Winickoff, who advised Professor Connolly on where to publish the study, contended that the tobacco industry was creating novel products partly to entice and addict a new generation of smokers to replace those who die." ...

"In a commentary in Pediatrics, Dr. Laurence R. Deyton, director of the newly formed Center for Tobacco Products at the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Marisa L. Cruz, also from the center, wrote about the “unique concerns” of dissolvable tobacco. New Reynolds products also include a thin strip similar to some breath mint products and a stick resembling a toothpick. "The candy-like appearance, added flavors, and easily concealable size of many of these products may be particularly appealing to children and adolescents," they wrote."

Dr. Connolly is a member of the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which will be taking up the issue of Camel orbs as its second order of business (after dealing with menthol).

The Rest of the Story

This story demonstrates exactly why the FDA tobacco legislation is so detrimental to the public's health, and why it is such a victory for Philip Morris.

Anti-smoking researchers and federal regulators are apparently off their rockers thinking that R.J. Reynolds would be stupid enough to try to poison kids with their products so these products would then be taken off the market. The accusation that cigarette companies are marketing products to youth by making them look like candy demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the reason why adolescents smoke in the first place.

Teenagers smoke because they want to look like and feel like adults, and separate themselves out from being kids. The whole point of smoking is that it is not candy. Candy is for kids. It's the cigarettes that are viewed as being for adults. Thus, smoking - not eating tobacco-infused candy - is the rite of passage into adulthood for adolescents.

R.J. Reynolds is not going to risk its entire Camel orb smokeless tobacco market by trying to lure lots of kids into using the product so that federal regulators take notice and ban the product from the market. The whole point of Camel orbs is to capture a unique niche caused by smoking regulations and policies - the market opportunity to gain profits by encouraging the use of a non-combusted tobacco product that can be used at any time when smoking is not allowed. It's not kids who R.J. Reynolds is after with Camel orbs. It's smokers. Especially smokers who work in places where smoking is not allowed or who dine in restaurants or bars where smoking is not allowed. There is a large potential market in encouraging smokers to use non-combusted products at these places and at these times.

Remember, every cigarette not smoked while a person is at a place where smoking is not permitted is a lost sale for the industry. If the industry can get someone to use an alternative tobacco product at such times, it is filling a market niche that would otherwise have remained empty.

The last thing in the world that R.J. Reynolds wants is for kids to start popping Camel orbs. The product would quickly be taken off the market, and then its sales can be no higher than zero. If R.J. Reynolds is marketing this product to kids, it is making a stupid marketing decision. And although I have taken issue with many of the companies' actions historically, the one thing I have never accused the company of doing is making a stupid marketing decision - one that is against its own interests.

The irony, of course, is that with all of this attention to Camel orbs, which very few adolescents are using, the FDA's attention is completely off of the product that actually is being used by hundreds of thousands of youths: Camel cigarettes.

Just as the initial action under the FDA legislation - banning flavored products - resulted in absolutely no cigarette brands produced by Big Tobacco being taken off the market, all of this brouhaha about Camel orbs is misdirected and is taking attention away from the actual problem: cigarette smoking. That's what kids are doing - they're smoking the damn real cigarettes. They don't care about the stupid candy!

But don't you see - that was the precise point of the FDA legislation: to create a regulatory scheme that would insulate cigarettes from any meaningful regulation, but would get the anti-smoking groups excited by enticing them with the regulation of all these alternative products: the flavored cigarettes (not menthol, of course), the orbs, the electronic cigarettes. Philip Morris brilliantly cemented its dominant market share by insulating its leading cigarette brands from meaningful regulation, and by putting up an obstacle to the introduction of potentially safer, but competitive products, including smokeless ones.

While the FDA is completely pre-occupied with deciding what to do about electronic cigarettes and Camel orbs (for which there is no documentation of any substantial use by youths), what has all but escaped notice is the fact that the FDA now approves the sale and marketing of deadly regular cigarettes, which are used by millions of youths and which will kill half of those who become addicted and end up using them long-term.

The entire agenda is misguided. And this preoccupation with Camel orbs - including the assertion that the purpose of these orbs is to lure kids - is exactly what Philip Morris had planned. In the mean time, kids go on smoking their Marlboros, Camels, and Newports, and there ain't a damn thing that the FDA is going to do about it.

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