When it comes to nicotine, everyone knows about the dangers of cigarettes,
e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco. But what about the tablet that could
pass for a breath mint, or the pack of what looks like breath strips?
These are forms of dissolvable tobacco. And while they may look more harmless
than traditional forms of tobacco, they still pose health hazards.
Dissolvable products generally have been manufactured as sticks, strips,
lozenges or tablets; the tobacco is milled and pressed into one of these
shapes and it can come in different flavors. A close cousin to dissolvable
tobacco is snus, which originated in Sweden. Snuff tobacco, sometimes
flavored, is packed into a small bag that is inserted under the upper
lip, which allows the user to swallow the tobacco juices. The bag is then
thrown away when the user is done.
"Dissolvable tobacco doesn't require smoking, such as cigarettes,
and it doesn't need to be spit out, as with chewing tobacco; instead
dissolvables simply melt in the mouth as they deliver nicotine," says
Chesda Eng, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician at
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. "While they've been pitched as a healthier alternative to cigarettes
or chewing tobacco, dissolvables still pack a punch when it comes to the
amount of nicotine they can contain. Studies on their safety are limited,
but these products still pose risks. For instance, while the chances of
lung cancer can be decreased compared to smoking, because the nicotine
isn't inhaled into the lungs, dissolvables can carry a higher risk
for oral cancer or health problems such as mouth sores or receding gums."
Dr. Eng adds that there are other dangers inherent in dissolvable tobacco.
"It can be easy to get too much nicotine with these products, either
by consuming more than the recommended amount--say, popping in two tablets
at once instead of one--or using them in conjunction with cigarettes.
That can increase a person's dependence on and addiction to nicotine."
Dissolvable tobacco is also dangerous because it's appealing to children
and teens, and a way to get them hooked on smoking. The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration reported that about 80,000 high school students used
dissolvables in 2014. "The flavors and appearance make these products
look fun, like candy," Dr. Eng says. "They also don't look
as dangerous as cigarettes--it would be easy for a teen to consume dissolvables
unnoticed. It's so important to prevent young people from using tobacco,
as the majority of smokers picked up the habit by age 18. Kids can not
only become addicted to nicotine, but young ones are susceptible to nicotine
poisoning, with symptoms ranging from headaches to convulsions. Dissolvables
can look harmless to young kids, so it can be easy for them to use too
many of these strips or tablets."
Earlier this year, the FDA established its authority to regulate the manufacture
and sale of dissolvable tobacco. In addition, by 2018 dissolvable product
labels will have to say, “WARNING: This product contains nicotine.
Nicotine is an addictive chemical.” "Ideally, these enhanced
regulations will help keep dissolvables out of the hands of minors and
let potential consumers clearly know there are health risks," Dr. Eng says.
Learn more about
Dr. Eng. Learn more about
St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group.