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New Questions About Snuff Tobacco Industry


November 1994

Two former chemists for the largest manufacturer of "snuff" tobacco say U.S. Tobacco chemically boosts its product to hook young people (Alix M. Freedman, "Juiced Up: How a Tobacco Giant Doctors Snuff Brands to Boost Their 'Kick,'" Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 1994, p. A1).

James C. Taft was head of product development for U.S. Tobacco from 1972 until 1991. Larry D. Story was a chemist for the company until he decided to leave in 1982. U.S. Tobacco makes Skoal and Copenhagen products.

The chemists say the company does not manipulate the amount of nicotine in the product, although Taft says all U.S. tobacco products "have enough nicotine to kill a horse." Instead, the company alters how much nicotine the user can receive from the tobacco. Not all of the nicotine in snuff tobacco is "free," or quickly available to enter the user's bloodstream. The amount of free nicotine is controlled in two ways: the cut and the pH of the tobacco. Finely cut tobacco releases its nicotine faster than "long cut" brands.

Most snuff brands have a pH of less than 6, meaning the tobacco is acid. For nicotine to be absorbed into the bloodstream, the tobacco must have a pH of over 7, an alkaline reading. Taft and Story say U.S. Tobacco adds sodium carbonate and ammonium carbonate to some brands to cause faster absorption. Sodium carbonate and ammonium carbonate are two of the 562 additives on list that the snuff industry was forced to release to Congress earlier this year.

The company discovered in the 1970s that first-time users sometimes became sick on the potent Copenhagen and Fine Cut Skoal products. To draw new users, chemists attempted to control the exact amount of nicotine that would be released in their new brands. Story said that during his time at U.S. Tobacco the items in the company's product line were ranked on a scale according to how fast nicotine would be absorbed into the user's bloodstream.

In 1983 the company released Skoal Bandits, pouches of lower pH tobacco. Next came Skoal Long Cut in 1984, which releases nicotine more slowly than Copenhagen and Fine Cut Skoal. Soon U.S. Tobacco offered Skoal Long Cut in wintergreen, spearmint, and finally cherry, which is fast becoming a company cash cow.

According to some, U.S. Tobacco introduced Cherry Long Cut Skoal to hook young kids. Bob Beets, who worked for the company as a sales representative until 1990, said, "Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I mean."

After using Cherry Skoal for a while, many say that young people become hooked and "graduate" to brands like Copenhagen and Fine Cut Skoal. The article alleges that the company uses give-aways and promotional samples of Cherry Skoal to hook people, knowing that they will move on to using the more potent tobacco products. Story said that while he worked for U.S. Tobacco there was a saying: "There's a hook in every can."

The allegations against U.S. Tobacco are significant because Food and Drug Administration Chief David A. Kessler called for the regulation of cigarettes based on information that that industry doctors the amount of nicotine in its products.

Snuff is a smokeless tobacco often confused with chewing tobacco. Users do not chew snuff, but put small amounts between their cheek and gum and allow the nicotine to absorb into the bloodstream. Despite falling sales for cigarettes, sales for snuff have been rising. An estimated 7.5 million people are using the product.

The Centers for Disease Control says that snuff users are fifty times as likely to develop cancer of the gum or inner cheek lining and four times as likely to get cancer of the mouth than non-users.

U.S. Tobacco Products

Brand % of Total Snuff Market % of Nicotine that is "Free" Milligrams of Nicotine per gram of Snuff pH
Copenhagen 42% 79% 11.4 8.6
Original Fine Cut Skoal 20% 27% 10.4 7.6
Skoal Long Cut Cherry 3% 22% 11.4 7.5
Skoal Bandits Wintergreen 2% 7% 7.5 6.9