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Smokeless Tobacco

A bat and chewing tobacco lay on a mat at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Smokeless tobacco is about a $6 billion industry, says Bloomberg Industries analyst Kenneth Shea.

“Growing sales [are] at about a 6 percent annual rate, which is pretty good, particularly compared to cigarettes which grow at about 1 percent a year,” he says.

Shea says cigarette sales still command 85 percent of total tobacco sales, but products like chew and snuff are growing. Part of the draw, says Shea is that it’s getting harder and harder to find a place where you can smoke.

Harvard Public Health Professor Gregory Connolly says R.J. Reynolds and Altria parent company of Phillip Morris – have also done a great job luring consumers in.

“You can get twice the amount of nicotine out of a tin of Copenhagen than you do out of a pack of Marlboros,” he says.

Connolly says part of the problem is that regulations aren’t as tight for smokeless tobacco as they are for cigarettes.

“We banned all candy-like flavors, so you can’t get cherry cigarettes,” he says. “But [we] totally exempted smokeless tobacco. So you can buy lemon smokeless tobacco, minty smokeless tobacco, you name it.”

The National Institutes of Health considers chew a growing national problem.

Northwestern oncologist Dr. Mark Agulnik says he sees evidence of the product’s popularity in his office every day.

“We certainly see fewer smokers. The only group that has not changed over time is the group that has been exposed to smokeless tobacco,” he says.

Agulnik says he’s not sure whether the death of famous baseball player Tony Gwynn will slow smokeless tobacco sales.

But the doctor says at least people are talking about chew.

Something he says they weren’t doing last week.

About the author

Dan Gorenstein is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Health Desk. You can follow him on Twitter @dmgorenstein.

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