Lautenberg wants FDA to yank candy-like tobacco from store shelves

A senior Democratic senator is pushing to yank Camel’s dissolvable tobacco products from store shelves, saying that the candy-like items could kill children if ingested in large quantities.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week to pull the dissolvable tobacco products – namely Camel’s Orbs, Sticks, and Strips – from stores until the agency could conduct a study of their effects on children and teenagers.

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The new products, made out of ground tobacco with mint or cinnamon flavoring, come in a several sizes and are designed to dissolve in the user’s mouth. The Orbs are small pellets, the Sticks are twisted sticks that resemble toothpicks, and the Strips are thin sheets similar to breath strips.

“When a tobacco product that looks like candy is potentially deadly to children, government needs to act,” said Lautenberg in a statement. “These tobacco candies could hook a new generation of teenagers. We need to consider clearing them from store shelves until the effect on young children and teenagers is better understood.”

In Lautenberg’s letter to the FDA he cited a study published in the Pediatrics medical journal this week, which found that some of the dissolvable tobacco products had very high levels of nicotine. A single Camel Stick can deliver as much as 3.1 milligrams of nicotine compared to the 1 milligram of nicotine that an average cigarette delivers.

The study said that if a 4-year-old ingested 16 to 27 of the pellet-sized Camel Orbs, which contain 1 milligram of nicotine in each, the infant could experience severe nicotine poisoning or death.

“This product is called a ‘tobacco’ product, but in the eyes of a 4-year-old, the pellets look more like candy than a regular cigarette,” said Gregory Connolly, the study’s author and the director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and to make it look like a piece of candy is recklessly playing with the health of children.”

But tobacco companies are adamant that the new products are marketed solely toward adults and point to the childproof containers that they come in as adequate safety measures.

The products are only being test-marketed in Indiana, Ohio and Oregon, but Camel’s parent company, R.J. Reynolds, has started a nationwide advertising campaign and Lautenberg said he was worried that the products could harm children before the FDA finishes its study of them. 

Lautenberg’s move comes one year after Congress passed a bill that for the first time granted the FDA authority to control the ingredients in tobacco products by forcing tobacco companies, which are required to submit their products’ ingredients to the agency, to remove them if they were deemed to be dangerous.

The FDA is expected to review dissolvable tobacco products once it finishes studying the effects of menthol cigarettes.