Are melt-in-your-mouth, wintergreen-flavored tobacco lozenges made by a Glen Allen company too attractive to children?
That was the concern three weeks ago when the Food and Drug Administration wrote to Star Scientific Inc., officially alerting its concerns about the company's Ariva brand lozenges. “Children and adolescents may find dissolvable tobacco products particularly appealing, given the brightly colored packaging, candy-like appearance and easily concealable size of many of these products,” writes Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.
Star immediately promised to cooperate with the FDA, which was given authority over tobacco-product regulation last year. And Star went a step further Feb. 19. It filed an application with the FDA to have Ariva, made from its specially cured tobacco that purports to eliminate cancer-causing nitrosamines, certified as a “modified risk,” meaning that it's less harmful than other tobacco products.
Star's on-again, off-again courtship with the FDA dates to 2001, when the company first began marketing Ariva. Star has long attempted to align itself with the anti-tobacco community.
FDA approval could clear the way for bigger markets for several tobacco companies including Star, which started selling cigarettes with lower-carcinogen tobacco in the late 1990s. Reynolds American, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., makes a similar tablet named Camel Orbs. Both Reynolds and Richmond-based Philip Morris USA also are marketing smokeless tobacco products called “snus,” a dry snuff.
Tobacco companies, which have seen big declines in cigarettes sales in recent years, are banking heavily on smokeless alternatives. The market is estimated at $4 billion and could grow significantly, especially if the FDA grants Star's request.