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As a new smokeless tobacco product is tested in two U.S. cities, public health officials are expressing concerns about the safety of this and other similar products. They say the products are especially attractive to teens.

R.J. Reynolds is test-marketing Camel Orbs—a dissolvable tobacco lozenge—in Denver, CO and Charlotte, NC, the Los Angeles Times reports. The product is a pellet of finely cured tobacco, with added binders and flavoring, which dissolves in the mouth and provides a hit of nicotine. A company spokesman says the product allows people to enjoy nicotine without bothering others with secondhand smoke, cigarette butts or spitting. Tobacco manufacturers say this product and other similar ones, which are shaped into sticks or strips, are safer than cigarettes because they contain fewer cancer-causing chemicals, and may help people quit smoking.

But public health officials say these products, with packaging and flavoring that appeals to children, may attract teens, who can easily use the products in secret.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is meeting this week to discuss the nature and impact of the use of dissolvable tobacco products on the public health, including their impact on children.

The first dissolvable tobacco product to be introduced in the United States was Ariva. Reynolds is also test-marketing Camel Strips and Sticks, while Philip Morris is test-marketing a dissolvable tobacco stick. The article notes that few studies have been conducted on the possible health risks of dissolvable tobacco.

In June, a group of U.S. senators asked the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products to regulate dissolvable tobacco products that they said poses health risks, especially for children.

The senators urged the FDA to reverse their recent decision not to regulate these products. In March, the FDA determined dissolvable tobacco lozenges made by Star Scientific are not subject to the federal law regulating tobacco. The company had applied to the FDA to have its dissolvable lozenges, Ariva-BDL and Stonewall-BDL, classified as “modified risk” products that would allow it to market them as less harmful than regular cigarettes.

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