Dissolvable tobacco has appeared on the scene relatively recently as a product that has been designed with the aim of reducing the harm caused by tobacco consumption as it enables users to avoid the harmful chemicals that form from combustion and in turn, cut their chances of developing an illness related to tobacco. Dissolvable tobacco is a form of smokeless tobacco however users do not have to spit as they do when using chewing tobacco since the pellets dissolve after they are held in the user’s mouth for a period of time that may be between 2 and 30 minutes. However, there are still some concerns about the health risks that may be associated with dissolvable tobacco, and especially about the possibility of it being swallowed by children who mistake it for candy. Finding out more about the various types of dissolvable tobacco on the market and the research which has so far been carried out into the use of these products will help you to determine whether or not these products could be dangerous for children or smokers in general.
What Is Dissolvable Tobacco?
Dissolvable tobacco has recently gained attention thanks to the recent introduction of Camel brand tobacco orbs, sticks and strips however it has actually been available since 2001 when Star Scientific produced Stonewall and Ariva branded dissolvable tobacco. The aim of creating this product was to develop a product that was low in nitrosamine (a carcinogen that is found in tobacco and which is believed to be the primary risk from smokeless tobacco.) In 2009, tobacco companies became involved in the development of dissolvable tobacco and R.J. Reynolds tested and refined the newest version. Marlboro’s manufacturer, Philip Morris, launched a similar product – Skoal sticks – in 2011, however it is only in recent years that interest has increased in these types of products.
Dissolvable Tobacco Types
There are three main types of dissolvable tobacco, however they are all quite similar. Each is made from powdered tobacco mixed with sugar, flavouring and a binding agent together with ingredients that balance the pH. Usually, they contain a variable amount between 1 and 3 mg of nicotine in each piece. Technically, dissolvable tobacco is not actually dissolvable. Although it appears to dissolve, what actually happens is that it breaks down into increasingly smaller pieces which are then swallowed with the saliva. It does not actually form a solution in the same way that salt does when added to water. The three types of dissolvable tobacco are:
- Orbs – orbs or lozenges are a tablet-like form of dissolvable tobacco. Some pharmaceutical companies manufacture lozenges that are similar to these however they do not contain any tobacco while the non-pharmaceutical versions have a higher volume of nicotine.
- Strips – Similar in style to the dissolvable breath-freshening mint strips, this product is a thin film which contains tobacco and which is placed into the mouth to dissolve within just a few minutes.
- Sticks – Similar to a dissolvable tobacco strip, this product is formed into a stick around the size of a toothpick. While the Skoal brand actually uses a wooden stick which is partially coated with a mixture of ground tobacco, the R.J. Reynolds brand is entirely dissolvable, disappearing completely within around 30 minutes.
Health Concerns and Risks
Dissolvable tobacco has some health concerns around its use, specifically relating to the nitrosamines which are present in tobacco and the chances of it causing pancreatic and oral cancers. Another issue which arises with the use of dissolvable tobacco is that it looks quite similar to candy and may therefore be accidentally consumed by children, resulting in accidental poisoning. Some of the main risks include:
- Cancer – While dissolvable tobacco contains relatively few nitrosamines, some are still present and this raises concerns about the possibilities of developing cancer of the pancreas or mouth. The standards that have been published by the World Health Organisation for the amount of nitrosamines to be safe in smokeless tobacco is 2 parts per million and tests have shown that the currently available products are well within this set limit and therefore, the risk of developing cancer from using these products is quite low. There has been recent extensive research into Snus, which are used in a similar way to dissolvable tobacco, and which has demonstrated that no increased cancer risk has been observed in those using the product except in the case of pancreatic cancer, and even then, the chance of developing pancreatic cancer from using Snus is considerably less than the risk of developing the condition from smoking tobacco. Snus contain more nitrosamines than dissolvable tobacco and therefore this evidence is very useful in determining the cancer risk of dissolvable tobacco products.
- Use by children – In 2011, a survey carried out into the number of high school pupils who had used dissolvable tobacco in the 30 days before the survey showed a figure of 0.4%. This had risen to 0.8% in 2012. The same survey carried out among middle school pupils showed a proportion of 0.3% in 2011 and 0.5% in 2012. Although the amount of usage has been shown to be growing, the figures that correspond to cigarette smoking among the same age groups (i.e. 14% for high school students and 3.5% for middle school students) are considerably higher.
- Risk of poisoning – A report commissioned by Star Scientific from the American Association for Poison Control Centers showed that only 4 out of 651 child exposures to products in the “snuff” category were relating to dissolvable tobacco. All of the cases were considered to be non toxic and only treatment at home was required. Out of all 471 cases across the “snuff” category that were followed up, only nine resulted in “moderate” effects and no fatalities occurred. This compares with 1300 child exposures during 2009 to pharmaceutical products that contain nicotine.
Although there are still some concerns regarding children’s exposure to dissolvable tobacco and the chances of developing oral and pancreatic cancers from consuming this product, evidence to date has shown that there is very little increased risk to health and the chances of children suffering a fatal poisoning from consuming these products are also very low. Overall, dissolvable tobacco appears to be an effective alternative to smoking tobacco and may well reduce the consumer’s chances of developing the health problems associated with the combustion of tobacco.