Once upon a time, it was possible for kids to look just like Mom and Dad by putting chalky white candy cigarettes in their mouths.
The tips were painted red.
They were readily available but never particularly popular, perhaps because when a kid wants candy, something chalky white is not the first thing he (or she) thinks of.
When anti-smoking campaigns began to spool up in earnest in the United States, these stick candies (they came in boxes about the same size as cigarette packs) were targeted early and seem to have mostly fizzled away.
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But in the past couple of years a new kind of tobacco product has gained popularity and health officials and parents are rightly concerned.
The first dissolvable tobacco product came out 10 years ago. Like those popular melt-on-your-tongue breath mints, the new tobacco products can be sweet, leave no unattractive residue to be spit out and come in candy-sized wafers or other convenient shapes.
And, says the Food and Drug Administration, they are loaded with nicotine.
Here's what the U.S. surgeon general has concluded about nicotine:
w All forms of tobacco are addicting.
w Nicotine is the addicting drug in tobacco.
w And it's not much different than addiction to other drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
It's taken a massive education campaign spanning decades, but most of the people in this country are nonsmokers, and more smokers are quitting every day. It's a trend that threatens the bottom line of some major corporations.
Tobacco companies point out that the new products produce no smoke, eliminating second-hand smoke as a detriment, and thus making them safer for society at large.
Says tobacco industry representative David Howard:
"These products provide smokers with an option to enjoy the pleasure of nicotine without bothering others. No second-hand smoke. No spitting. No cigarette butt."
It would be good if the tobacco companies could add "no cancer" to that list. But they can't.
According to The Los Angeles Times, "Dissolvable tobacco consists of small pieces of compressed, finely ground tobacco powder, binders and flavorings that are shaped into pellets, sticks or strips. When placed in the mouth, they dissolve within minutes, providing a nicotine hit."
It sounds as easy to consume as candy and, although tobacco companies say it's not being marketed to kids, the product is certainly easier than cigarettes for children to use undetected.
We don't know if the dissolvable nicotine leaves any tell-tale scent, but it can't possibly compare with the way that the smoke-infused clothes of heavy smokers can fill a room with odor.
Intentional or not, sweetening or otherwise flavoring the product is a step toward recruiting younger tobacco users. Given the tobacco industry's history, we'd guess it's a calculated move.
But the industry says it markets the new product in the same places and under the same rules as cigarettes.
The reason flavors are added, said a spokesperson, is to make them taste less harsh.
The FDA is looking into the new products under expanded powers it has recently been given.
Although Big Tobacco remains a powerful player in Congress, it fares less and less well in the courts and in public opinion.
We expect the new packaging of this old project may not produce any smoke but there will be plenty of heat.