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By Austin Carr | 04-28-2010 | 3:57 PM
Big League Chew
The Root of the Cause
In a study by the Harvard School of Public Health published Monday, researchers examined child poisonings related to the ingestion of "novel smokeless tobacco products" such as Camel Orbs, highly-addictive mint- or cinnamon-flavored candies made of ground tobacco and filled with nicotine. The study, along with many critics, point out that the Orbs resemble Tic Tacs, and some suggest the novelty (along with the nicotine) are a method to attract (and addict) "a new generation of smokers to replace those who die." Of course, this is not the first time critics have alleged that the cigarette industry is targeting children. In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association discovered that more kids could recognize Joe Camel than they could Mickey Mouse, sparking several lawsuits over the iconic cigarette ad-campaign. But perhaps more dangerous (or at least less controversial) than Joe Camel are drug- and tobacco-themed products like Camel Orbs, which often seep into pop-culture and help create the aura of "cool" that perhaps lures children into hard-to-kick habits later in life. Companies more and more are marketing and packaging their goods in this fashion. Here we present a short history of these products--are you addicted to any?
You had to know this one was coming. Can't you remember puffing these as a child, blowing plumes of chalky sugar into the air like a regular Marlboro Man? The sweet smokes were introduced in the early 19th century, and have long been controversial for obvious reasons. Candy cigarettes are now banned in Finland, Norway, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. In the U.S. however, several bans have been considered but never enacted. Only North Dakota has passed a ban on the products, in 1953--and it was repealed in 1967. Studies have even shown a link between candy cigarettes and smokers. According to a Harris poll in 2007, about 22% of current or former smokers regularly puffed on candy cigarettes as kids, compared with the 14% of non-smokers who enjoyed the treats as children.
We all remember the famous scene in The Sandlot when the boys get their hands on some tobacco. "What is it?" Smalls wonders. Big chief! Wad! Dip! Chaw! 'Baccy! "All the pros do it." Big League Chew transformed MLB-stars's penchants for chewing tobacco into a G-rated version little leaguers, giving baseball players of all ages access to a sugary supplement to gnaw on in the dugout. In 1995, after well over a decade on the market, Patrick Reynolds, the grandson of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds, spoke with the NY Times about the product. "Baseball players...have helped repopularize chewing tobacco by having a wad in their cheeks and a round can in their back pockets," he said. "There's even a brand of chewing gum called Big League Chew that children can buy. I wrote to Wrigley's and tried to get them to stop selling that product. It's abominable." Yet the product remains on stands. More recently, as congress pressures the Major League to ban real tobacco, some have suggested that the problem would be solved if players would just switch to Big League Chew.
Not all products have to resemble a product physically to invoke a connection--some just share the same name. Energy drinks like Amp, Red Bull, and Monster aim to inject a tremendous amount of caffeine into consumers, jacking them up for a night of debauchery (or a mid-term study session). For kids under age, this is the next best thing to alcohol--if you've ever watched MTV's My Super Sweet 16, where rich kids throw the party of their dreams, then you've certainly seen the teens guzzle down Red Bulls while grinding on the dance floor. In 2006, Redux Beverages introduced Cocaine, a highly caffeinated energy drink with 3.5 times more caffeine than Red Bull. The drink was pulled from U.S. shelves quickly, but not for its ridiculous caffeine content. According to the FDA, Cocaine "was illegally marketing the drink as both a street drug alternative and a dietary supplement." By 2007, the drink was back on shelves, but with new labeling: "WARNING: This message is for the people who are too stupid to recognize the obvious. This product does not contain cocaine (duh)."
Is Bubble Tape modeled on tin of tobacco? Don't Mike & Ikes remind you of any numbers of lines in Fear and Loathing? Isn't there something inappropriate-feeling about Fun Dip? Pixy Stix? Can you think of any yourself? It's worth pointing out that any number of candy products arguably resemble certain drugs--but often, we should just chalk that up to an innocent likeness.
After all, of all the products we've shown you so far, isn't the most overlooked culprit (albeit non-drug related) root beer? Look at any can of Mug or A&W, and you'll see a frothy golden brew that'd make even Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. Crowley want to hit the bar tap together. They come in glass beer bottles--heck, they even say "beer" on the label! Isn't this a bad habit to ingrain in kids' minds? But of course, this is an overly P.C. P.O.V. to take. And if you think any of the products previously listed should be banned -- packs of candy cigarettes, cans of Cocaine, pouches of Big League Chew "tobacco" -- then you most certainly should include Barq's on that list too.
Harvard School of Public Health