SAN FRANCISCO: Sues Smokeless Tobacco Makers
"The posse that brought down Joe Camel has fixed its lawyerly sights on a new target: the makers of snuff and chewing tobacco who allegedly pitch their products to kids," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. San Francisco county and city filed a complaint yesterday in San Francisco Superior Court charging "six makers of 'smokeless tobacco' and almost a dozen food store chains with unfairly concentrating on adolescents in the sale of addictive and toxic snuff and chewing tobacco." The biggest target of the suit is U.S. Tobacco Inc., maker of Skoal and Copenhagen, but supermarket chains such as Safeway, Lucky Stores and Raley's are also being sued. None of the defendants had comments on the suit (Russell, 4/1). In addition to unfairly targeting adolescent males, the suit charges the makers of violating "Proposition 65, the state's toxic warning law, because the rotating warnings affixed to smokeless products do not adequately warn of cancer risk." Joining the plaintiffs in suing the smokeless tobacco industry is the Environmental Law Center of Oakland, the Los Angeles Times reports.
While there are plenty of lawsuits against cigarette makers, the Times notes this case "is among the first to target the smokeless tobacco industry." Jim Wheaton of the Environmental Law Center said, "Nobody has paid attention to the enormous growth in use of this product by high school boys" (Levin, 4/1). "The marketing techniques used by tobacco companies to hook kids on chew makes the Joe Camel ad campaign look like child's play," said Wheaton (Chronicle, 4/1).
'Sooner Or Later, It's Copenhagen'
According to the lawsuit, "snuff makers led by UST have consciously targeted the young with less harsh, lower-nicotine 'starter products,' then steered them to more potent brands" (Times, 4/1). Wheaton specifically charged the smokeless tobacco makers of using brands "laced with fruit flavorings to lure young experimenters into nicotine addiction." By offering brands varying in nicotine concentration -- Skoal Bandits delivers "only 7% of its available nicotine," while Long Cut delivers 23% and Copenhagen delivers 79% -- the groups say the makers were endorsing a "graduation" scheme.
Chew On This
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that "one in five male high school students use" smokeless tobacco products each month. The product can "result in a four- to 50-fold increase in the risk of mouth cancer." According to a University of California at San Francisco study of the state's high school baseball players, 46% had tried smokeless tobacco products and 33% "had used them more than once in the past month" (Chronicle, 4/1).