Hey, Kids! Try Some Candy Tobacco!

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco began selling Camel Orbs, Camel Sticks and Camel Strips earlier this year.

“The Orbs look like Tic Tacs, the Sticks look like toothpicks and the Strips look like breath strips,” said Susan Westof, tobacco prevention specialist, with the Jefferson County Public Health Department. …

“The products are packaged in a way that makes them indistinguishable from candy,” said Donna Viverette, the department’s tobacco prevention coordinator. “That’s an issue if they end up in the hands of children.”

— Lance Hernandez, “Health Experts Alarmed By ‘Candy Like’ Tobacco Products: R.J. Reynolds Test Marketing Orbs, Strips, Sticks In Denver,” ABC 7 News, Denver, 24 May 2011.

Kansas is one of three states in which tobacco sticks – products that resemble chocolate-covered toothpicks and are sold in matchbook-sized packages – are being tested

— “KDHE issues ‘tobacco stick’ advisory,” Topeka Capital-Journal, 26 May 2011

I suppose it was inevitable.  To entice children to try their product, cigarette companies have used cartoon characters (Joe Camel) and hip accessories (Marlboro Gear).  Why not take the next logical step and disguise nicotine as candy?  One wonders why they’ve waited so long to do this.

Camel Orbs, Sticks, and StripsR.J.Reynolds company spokesperson alleges that no, of course they wouldn’t market their product to children.  However, these “dissolvables” look and taste like candy — specifically, like chocolate mint.  They come in attractive packages that can be easily hidden in a shirt pocket.  Which, of course, is precisely the idea.  Children can get hooked on these candy-flavored tobacco sticks, and easily conceal the package.  Clever.

And, of course, vital for the industry.  If it hooks a smoker at a young age, then a tobacco company can sell so much more of its product — until, of course, the smoker dies.  But death takes years!  And young people tend to be more susceptible to marketing.  So… tobacco companies have long tried to lure the young user.  It’s good for business.

But disguising nicotine as candy?  Even for an industry not known for any sense of shame, this approach seems particularly brazen.  As Harvard School of Public Health Professor Gregory N. Connolly (the lead researcher on a study of these products) said, “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and to make it look like a piece of candy is recklessly playing with the health of children.”

In the same New York Times article from which the above quotation comes, R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard says that it’s unfair to single out these candy-like tobacco products for criticism: after all, many households contain products dangerous to children.  Mr. Howard explains, “Virtually every household has products that could be hazardous to children, like cleaning supplies, medicines, health and beauty products, and you compare that to 20 to 25 percent of households that use tobacco products.”  But Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, Harvard medical professor, offers a sharp, pithy response to Mr. Howard’s sophistry: “The difference here is that kids potentially will be watching grown-ups ingesting these products. The last time I checked, we don’t have adults drinking toilet bowl cleanser in front of their kids.”

Well, not until R.J. Reynolds finds a way to market a delicious, sweet toilet-bowl-cleanser drink.  And, given the company’s new candy-flavored nicotine, I wouldn’t put anything past them.


  1. Irene Ward


    In talking with my doctor, it’s not the nicotine that is dangerous, though addicting. Its the other toxins and particulates in the smoke that come with it. This might be a valuable aid to those who want to quit. Just thinking outloud.

  2. Reply

    “The product, which KDHE said is showing up in convenience stores across Kansas, could cause dangerous nicotine poisoning in small children who mistake the sticks for candy, the agency said. The estimated minimal lethal pediatric dose of nicotine is 1 mg. per 2.2 pounds of body weight. The ingestion of 1 mg. of nicotine can induce nausea and vomiting in a small child.

    KDHE cited a study showing that tobacco sticks marketed as Camel Sticks contained 3.1 mg. of nicotine per stick.”

    — “KDHE issues ‘tobacco stick’ advisory,” Topeka Capital-Journal, 26 May 2011 <http://cjonline.com/news/2011-05-26/kdhe-issues-tobacco-stick-advisory>

  3. Susan W


    In response to Irene’s thoughts….

    This question comes up frequently! It’s true that certain nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products can be very effective in helping people quit tobacco. However, NRT products are created and marketed with that intention. The products that are discussed here are not intended to be quit aids but instead are marketed as a temporary form of nicotine for smokers in settings where smoking is banned.

    Unfortunately, these products may actually decrease cessation rates as smokers use these products in smoke-free areas instead of being encouraged to quit tobacco.

    In regards to nicotine, it actually has its own set of potentially harmful effects:

    -Exposure to nicotine via smoking has been linked to a greater risk of aggressive pancreatic cancer

    -Nicotine affects blood pressure and heart rate and increases the risk for heart attack and stroke

    -Nicotine is a poison and a neurotoxin — affects the central nervous system at cellular and functional levels

    -It affects cell replication/differentiation and central nervous system function in infants (maternal use and exposure to tobacco smoke)

    -Nicotine exposure in adolescence impacts neurochemistry and increases reward response to addictive drugs

    -Prenatal use — neurochemical changes in the developing brain may lead to multiple issues (ADHD, conduct disorders, substance abuse, and obesity)

    -Changes in brain function are detectable in adulthood

    -Nicotine limits immune effectiveness in fighting cancer and appears to stimulate aggressive growth of some cancers

    Hopefully this information is helpful!

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