Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and Marlboro, will soon unveil its first tobacco-free nicotine product: A chewable, mint-flavored lozenge called Verve. Unlike other smokeless products, which have become a hugely competitive niche for cigarette makers, Verve has no tobacco, which might make it easier for Altria to market. Here, a guide to why tobacco-free products might give Big Tobacco a boost:
How is the tobacco industry doing?
It's seen better days. More and more smokers are quitting, possibly because of high taxes, public-service campaigns, and graphic warning labels. But Big Tobacco companies still aren't exactly desperate. Sure, Altria's cigarette sales slipped 2.6 percent, to 31 billion cigarettes, last year, according to Investors.com. But overall earnings remain steady, and smokeless alternatives present a potentially lucrative new battleground. The smokeless category is growing by an estimated 7 percent per year.
So they're rolling out a cigarette cough drop?
Not exactly. Verve is a disc-shaped chewable that steadily releases nicotine for 15 minutes, but it doesn't dissolve. You have to throw it away when you're done, just like gum.
Is Verve healthier than cigarettes?
Yes. But it's not without problems. Verve doesn't contain tobacco, but it is packed with nicotine, which can increase heart rate and blood pressure, aggravate diabetes, or cause dizziness, nausea, or stomach pain. Still, while nicotine is known to be addictive and has attendant health problems, it does not cause cancer directly, as many smokers mistakenly believe. And because Verve doesn't contain tobacco, the company is hoping it can skirt regulations and market the product with milder health-warning labels.
Where can I get Verve?
For now, the product will be sold in select Virginia stores for $3 a pack. The company hasn't decided yet if it will roll Verve out nationally.
What else is Big Tobacco trying?
R.J. Reynolds Inc., the parent company of Camel cigarettes, is experimenting with a number of new smokeless products: Chewable Camel Sticks (which look like twisted toothpicks), dissolvable Camel Strips for your tongue, and Camel Orbs that resemble Tic Tacs. Electronic cigarettes, which emit vapor rather than smoke, are also growing in popularity.