As the Food and Drug Administration issues ever-stricter warnings and more smokers kick the habit, one tobacco company has started thinking outside the pack.
Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and Marlboro, is set to unveil its first tobacco-free nicotine product – a chewable, mint-flavored lozenge called Verve. While other smokeless products, which have become a competitive niche for cigarette makers, often contain tobacco as well as nicotine, Verve is an exception: It only contains the nicotine extracted from tobacco, not tobacco itself.
According to a Wall Street Journal article, this is a crucial distinction, especially in marketing. Altria is hoping that eliminating tobacco from its nicotine lozenge will permit it to market the product with milder health-warning labels than those associated with cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. And while nicotine is addictive and has been tied to cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, the WSJ notes that it has not been linked to cancer. Altria plans to begin selling Verve in more than 50 stores in Virginia soon, but hasn’t decided whether to roll out the product nationally.
The push for tobacco-free and smokeless products has accompanied harder times for cigarette makers. According to Investors.com, more and more smokers are quitting – possibly because of high taxes, graphic warning labels and public service campaigns. But earnings remain relatively steady. Still, as the Wall Street Journal article notes, smokeless products “are an increasingly important battleground. The smokeless category is growing at about 7% annually, while U.S. cigarette volume has been contracting at roughly 4% a year.”
And Verve isn’t the only new product coming to market. Electronic cigarettes, which emit vapor rather than smoke, are also growing in popularity, according to Convenience Store News. And R.J. Reynolds Inc., the parent company of Camel cigarettes, is experimenting with chewable Camel Sticks, dissolvable tongue strips and Camel Orbs, a mint-like product.
What do you think? Should companies be able to skirt the heftier warnings that accompany tobacco products with these new, nicotine-only products? Or is the health threat still great enough to keep these warnings in place?