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Today’s smokeless tobacco is just as addictive and marketed to the young

Mary Theresa Mazur of the former Steps To A HealthierPA, Luzerne County, which recently completed its five-year program, holds snuff products aimed at the teenage market. Mazur is currently an anti-smoking advocate for the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Northeast PA.

Fred Adams photos/ forthe times leader

Snuff products in the center are being marketed toward tweens, teens and college students. Products such as candy, to the left, and lip balm and lipstick to the right have similar packaging.

It’s a misconception that just because you don’t smoke nicotine, it is less addictive and less dangerous than a cigarette.

That’s the fallacy and danger behind a marketing ploy for a new take on a centuries old product, snuff.

Whereas the old snuff, popular in the 1970s and 1980s in round paper containers or bags under the name Copenhagen or Skoal, was chewed and spit out, today’s snuff comes in fancy containers with equally avant-garde aromas and names. And unlike its predecessor, this snuff isn’t pinched into one’s gums or chewed, it’s inhaled through the nostrils. And it isn’t being used just by baseball players or teenage boys emulating their sports idols.

Snuff is being marketed to tweens, teens and college students, both female and male, as hip, cool and healthy. It’s available for a nominal cost with a simple click online.

Yet, it’s anything but harmless, according to an area ear, nose and throat specialist, who is concerned that in any form, nicotine is extremely addictive. And what makes snuff so dangerous is that it doesn’t fall under any federal regulations, according to a local tobacco expert.

Many feel it’s the burning and inhaling of tobacco that exposes users to most carcinogens. Some specialists feel that, for health reasons, if you are going to use tobacco, you are better off using nasal snuff. But nasal snuff contains nicotine and is highly addictive, says Dr. Zephron Newmark, an ENT specialist with Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, Plains Township.

“There is danger for long-term use,” said Newmark. “If you become hooked, it can be difficult to stop.”

Tony Delonti, a member of the local chapter of the American Lung Association who also serves on the Luzerne County Tobacco Free Coalition, said these latest products are outside the realm of the regular tobacco industry. “It’s not a direct tobacco product so it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and it doesn’t come under the recent tobacco guidelines passed by the Obama administration,” he said.

Newmark said that nasal snuff does limit one negative side effect of nicotine, and that is the combustion. Still, he said, despite the absence of tar and gases such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and many other toxic combustion products, snuff is still harmful.

“Nicotine is a poison,” said Newmark. “It’s a dangerous compound. It is not classified as a drug so the FDA is not required to regulate it.”

A bill passed in June called the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act allows the FDA to ban candy flavorings in cigarettes and cigars. Tobacco companies also will be required to cover any carton images with large graphic warnings.

The regulation specifically targets what the FDA terms “characterizing” flavors of the tobacco or its paper or container, such as strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry and coffee. However, some flavorings, like menthol, are permitted.

The law doesn’t let the FDA ban nicotine or tobacco outright, but the agency will be able to regulate what goes into tobacco products, make public those ingredients and prohibit certain marketing campaigns, especially those geared toward children.

Two of the three largest U.S. tobacco companies filed suit against federal authorities in September, claiming the law violates their right to free speech.

The threshold of lung cancer from smoking is several years — however, if snuff is, indeed, attracting a younger audience, then elementary school students inhaling the component now could be diagnosed with cancer in their early 20s or 30s, he said.

“The manufacturers have made nasal snuff innocuous,” said Newmark. “They’ve made it into a pleasant experience that’s discreet and doesn’t hurt. If you remember the first cigarette you ever smoked, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. You probably coughed and hated the taste. But for some people, there is a genetic component that allowed them to become addicted to the nicotine. Now, snuff will still allow you to become addicted to the nicotine and probably at an even earlier age.”

These inhalants could lead to other cancers, most notably of the nose and lungs and even bladder, he said. Even sinus cancer is a possibility, he said, stating that other dangers of nasal snuff remain an unknown.

Nasal snuff is a finely ground, flavored tobacco, taken in the non-offensive form of a simple sniff into the nostrils. Snuff began as the tobacco choice of royalty and the elite in 17th century Europe, before being provided to the masses. Still popular in Europe today, snuff is now gaining popularity in the U.S.

The most popular use of snuff is to take just a pinch between your thumb and forefinger and sniff it lightly into the nose. This provides a pleasant aroma, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, as well as a noticeable nicotine lift.

Apart from flavors, dry snuff also comes in a range of textures and moisture levels, from very fine to coarse, and from toast (very dry) to very moist. Often drier snuffs are ground finer.

The aromas/flavors are appealing, ranging from fruity favorites like raspberry, cherry and blueberry to drinks like brandy maple, whiskey and honey, bourbon, cola champagne and wine and cheese to the unusual like violet and sandalwood.

The snuff comes in unique and easy to conceal tins and containers, such as glass and plastic vials and wooden boxes. The product reportedly provides an energy boost as some contain guarana, an herb, and glucose, as well as mints like spearmint and peppermint.

“These products are aimed specifically at the younger market,” said Delonti. “And they are marketed on the Internet. Who is more astute at getting online than today’s youth? And there is no mechanism in place to check a purchaser’s age.”

Proponents say that smokeless tobacco is 98 percent safer than cigarette smoking. Others say it provides some nicotine for those hoping to kick the smoking habit. That is why 1/3 of smokeless users in the U.S. today are former smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, 46 million Americans smoke, and 419,000 of them die annually from smoking-related illnesses such as heart and circulatory diseases, lung cancer and emphysema. Smokers live an average of eight years less than do nonsmokers.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that smokeless tobacco users are four times more likely to develop oral cancer than are nonusers of tobacco.

Just how addictive and seductive is cigarette smoking and a nicotine habit to area youth?

According to a 2007 survey by Steps To A HealthierPA Luzerne County, more than half of the teens surveyed (52 percent) reported trying a cigarette. About 12 percent indicated that they had smoked their first cigarette before the age of 13. About 22 percent smoked during the past month with about 7 percent saying they smoked at school. Approximately 14 percent said they smoked 20 or more days in the past month.

More than half of the respondents (53 percent) also said they had tried to quite the habit during the past year.

Education still remains the most viable tool to get children to pass up on snuff, however, Newmark admits that “The more you tell someone that something is bad for you, the more attractive you make it.”

Still, the doctor said it is important that parents are made aware of the fact that a product as dangerous as snuff is so readily available to their children online and in the school yard.

“I’ve seen young kids with throat cancer have to get half their jaw whacked off,” he said. “Who knows what else we will see with these products.”

Delonti urges concerned parents to contact their congressmen to try and get the products regulated.

“There is a chanced that federal legislation could create some action since the products are basically targeted for sale on the Internet,” he said.

Richmond-based Altria Group Inc., parent company of the nation’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, supported the bill, saying it backs tough but fair regulation.

Altria’s chief rivals — No. 2 Reynolds American Inc., parent company of R.J. Reynolds, and No. 3 Lorillard, both based in North Carolina — opposed the bill, saying FDA restrictions on new products would lock in Altria’s share of the market.

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