State: Big surge in Calif. smokeless tobacco sales

State report: Smokeless tobacco sales nearly triple over decade in California

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- While cigarette sales have plunged, sales of smokeless tobacco products have surged in the past decade in California, with use among high school students especially leaving state public health officials concerned, according to a state report.

The report released Thursday by the Department of Public Health says the amount spent on smokeless tobacco products has nearly tripled in 10 years, from $77 million in 2001 to about $211 million in 2011.

Among high school students, smokeless tobacco use has increased from 3.1 percent of students in 2004 to 3.9 percent in 2010, the report said.

Chewing tobacco and snuff remain the main smokeless products sold in the state, but newer products like the small, dissolvable packets known as snus have seen an increase in popularity, promotion and availability. Even smaller and more discreet dissolvable products like orbs and strips are becoming popular in other states and are likely to arrive in California soon.

Colleen Stevens, branch chief of the tobacco control program for the Department of Public Health, said the newer products can go unnoticed and even be used in classrooms because they closely resemble breath mints and strips.

"Some of these products are really flying under the radar," Stevens told the Los Angeles Times.

Stevens said there is far less research on the newer smokeless tobacco products than on chewing tobacco and cigarettes, and there are fewer restrictions on their marketing and advertising.

Illegal sales of all forms of tobacco to minors increased in the past year, reversing a downward trend since the mid-1990s, according to the report.

The highest share of illegal sales to minors came in unusual outlets like discount stores, delis and discount shops where the owners may not be entirely aware of the laws and penalties and can escape the notice of law enforcement.

"Kids are smart," Stevens told the Times. "All it takes is one place that is selling tobacco and it goes through the grapevine and kids know where that store is."

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