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"Other" Tobacco Products Now On The Radar

By Charlie Deitz


Massachusetts – The Food and Drug Administration has recently taken control of tobacco product regulation. The FDA has mandated that cigarettes can not be sold in packs of less than 20, they can not add flavoring and are subject to heavy taxes. A Berkshire county based health organization is now worried that a myriad of other tobacco products are cropping up to get youth addicted to tobacco, WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief Charlie Deitz has the report

The new regulations are there to lessen the appeal of cigarettes to youths, so making them less flavorful, with less colorful packaging and more expensive should help to keep kids off smoking. However, those rules don't apply to a range of other products.

"Citrus flavored ariva looks sort of like an Altoid", Joan Rubel, the program coordinator for the Berkshire Area Health Education Center, she's describing a small candy looking tobacco pill that dissolves in your mouth. Rubel's trying to get tools in the hands of parents and teachers to make them aware of the new tobacco products. She says a recent tobacco device called snus is basically a teabag full of tobacco, it's a spitless, smokeless pouch that goes up against your cheek, Rubel says it packs a punch too, " A teacher might not realize kid is using tobacco."

The snus, and ariva products also come in colorful packaging with sleek graphics, more like gum or candy and they're sold at less than half the price of a pack of cigarettes. Tanya Hills is the director at the South Berkshire Youth Coalition, whose target is to eradicate any and all drug usage in the area, she says tobacco over all is the second most abused drug behind alcohol, "What I can say about tobacco is they'll take any window of opportunity."

According to the Mass Department of Public Health , youth smokers are 4 times more likely to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, 26 times more likely to use cocaine, again here's Hills who says the main correlation between the drugs is risk taking behavior "The same people who are not trying to prevent lung disease would use tobacco or drugs."

A youth movement is starting to emerge in the Commonwealth to prevent all tobacco usage among young people, it's called the 84, and it refers to the 84 percent of high schoolers in Massachusetts that refuse to use tobacco products. This year, they gave their state youth leadership award to Melanie McFayden of Stoughton High, who began her quest at the age of 8 after losing her grandfather to a smoking related illness, here she's speaking at the award ceremony held this past spring, " we can make it rise to 100 percent."

The 84 has raised enough money to give groups like the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition a mini grant to survey how pervasive the new products are in north county communities, Kate Merrigan heads up that program, "So as we were working on that project during the year they were seeing a lot of use of chewing tobacco,"

The state department of public health has launched a website called Make Smoking History which has information about smoking and tobacco usage for every community in the commonwealth. Eileen Sullivan is the state director of policy and planning, she says they're right now conducting a state wide survey to see if retailers are letting underage customers buy these other products, "One of our concerns is that some of the retail clerks don't know the laws."

Joan Rubel says she worries that the other tobacco products haven't been tested by the FDA, so the actual potency of the pills and pouches and flavored cigars is unknown. So while state and community advocates are trying to get a handle on the marketing of these products, Rubel encourages proactive measures to start in the living room, "What can parents do;take a look at what's being sold, talk to your kids."