For decades, cigarette companies have spent millions of dollars per annum on ST research, consumer profiling, product development, and marketing . In the face of greater smoking restrictions and declining cigarette sales, they have developed new cigarette-branded smokeless, spitless products in an effort to satisfy consumer preferences whilst attempting to expand their consumer base . RJR's latest contribution to the smokeless tobacco market is a new line of dissolvable tobacco products: Camel Orbs, Strips and Sticks. As with other forms of tobacco which are usually purchased on an as-needed basis, this study found that the Camel Dissolvable tobacco products were most commonly sold at so-called "on-the-go" retailers - gas stations and convenience stores. These products were often co-located with Camel cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, such as Camel Snus, thereby emphasizing recognition of their popular brand.
Of particular concern was the co-location of Camel Dissolvables in 5% of stores with candy. Consumer advocacy groups and governmental agencies have expressed alarm that these new forms of smokeless tobacco may be confused with mints and candies [9, 24, 25]. The candy-like appearance of Camel Dissolvables and their ability to be used discretely may make them appealing to children and adolescents, potentially increasing tobacco use and/or accidental poisoning in youth [16, 25, 26]. Due to these concerns, and their expanded authority over tobacco regulation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for RJR to provide detailed reports regarding its knowledge of youth perceptions, use, and misuse of Camel Dissolvables . While the products were located behind the retail counter and sold in child-resistant packaging, their appearance and retail proximity to candy may enhance their risks to youth. In addition, point-of-purchase tobacco promotions have been shown to increase acceptance of tobacco among youth and encourage tobacco use [27, 28].
Nearly two-thirds of retailers offered the products at the manufacturer's suggested retail price of $3.99; 11% of stores discounted below that price point and another 24% charged a premium for these products. Further, 24% of stores advertised a "special price", typically equated with reduced prices. Similar to the initial marketing of snus , retailers reported that Camel Dissolvables did not move well without incentives such as discounts or coupons for a free container. As a result, 14% of stores were running a "free trial" promotion. In some cases, retail salespeople had been instructed to simply give the product away to get rid of it. However, while retailers generally described demand for the products as low, history has shown that such a response is not unusual following the introduction of a new tobacco product; with consumer feedback, further product improvements and effective marketing campaigns, product popularity and subsequently, sales, can increase over time . In addition, the use of discount pricing strategies may further enhance trial and ultimately, longer-term use.
The vast majority of stores (84%) displayed ads for the products, typically, adjacent to the product itself. One fourth of the retailers showcased more extensive in-store advertisements - three or more different ads with secondary locations in store windows or doors. The majority of ad messages simply announced the new product's availability ("Dissolvable Tobacco"), while others emphasized price ("Special Price") or consumer characteristics ("What's Your Style?"). While RJR appears to be promotionally supporting its newest smokeless product offering, this support is not typical of mass marketed new product introductions. Rather, promotions suggest a strategy targeted toward a select consumer audience, such as current smokers. In essence, RJR appears to be trying to capture more tobacco use instances per smoker or a dual use strategy of both smoking and smokeless tobacco.
Currently, there is no consensus on the health impact of dual tobacco use patterns in existing smokers. Furthermore, the issue is complicated by the fact that varying definitions of dual use in the scientific literature have generated different prevalence estimates and risk profiles . Nonetheless, it has been suggested that dual tobacco use may discourage tobacco cessation, increase nicotine levels, and exposure to tobacco toxicants . However, a recently published review of the scientific literature by tobacco industry researchers found no "unique health risks associated with dual use of smokeless tobacco products and cigarettes, which are not anticipated or observed from cigarette smoking alone" . From studies of tobacco use trajectory data, these authors also concluded that compared to those who only smoke cigarettes, dual users are more likely to quit smoking . However, their interpretation of the data has been questioned by others who contend that promotional strategies which support dual use encourage continued tobacco use in individuals who, in response to expanding smoke-free environments, would otherwise have quit . Other studies concur. For example, a national survey of dual tobacco users found that most used ST in places where smoking was not permitted and most did not believe ST was a useful cessation aid. In addition, compared to exclusive cigarette smokers, fewer dual users reported planning to quit in the next 6 months and nearly half did not plan to quit smoking at all . An investigation of the changes in tobacco use patterns over time among a cohort of US Air Force personnel found that of the smokers who initiated ST use following basic training, 87% became dual users, a result which the researchers classified as "harm escalation". Military personnel who quit smoking and/or quit dual use to become exclusive ST users were classified in the "harm reduction" group and they represented only 13.2% of the study population .
Inferences about the harm reduction potential of Camel Dissolvables may be made from how consumers perceive them. If the products' use becomes widespread, several outcomes are possible. Consumption by new users or former tobacco users may increase the burden of nicotine dependence in the population. Use by current smokers may result in cessation, switching to exclusively using Dissolvable tobacco or dual use. It appears that such products are not employed as a tool for cessation, and switching from smoking to ST use could be beneficial or harmful depending upon who is using the products, how they are used as well as the levels of nicotine and toxicants in the products, and product regulatory controls. At a minimum, dual use appears to be a means to maintain tobacco dependence. In the present study current and former smokers appear most interested in the products, so dual use and perhaps even relapse are potential outcomes. While we found that the rates of interest and trial of Camel Dissolvables were low, the aforementioned studies suggest that if smokers' awareness, interest, and satisfaction with these products grow, more smokers will be engaged in dual tobacco use which may negate any health benefits from using the lower toxicity Dissolvables. These individuals may be more likely to remain tobacco users, and public health efforts toward tobacco cessation may be undermined.
Interestingly, the AAU survey found higher levels of awareness and trial for Camel Dissolvables than Snus at approximately the same point in test marketing . This may be due to sample demographics. University campuses have been reported to hold events where the products were promoted with free samples, coupons, etc. While product awareness, trial and interest were all quite low, they were highest among young adults and male smokers. These results are consistent with previous studies which found that current or previous male smokers are more likely to try new forms of smokeless tobacco [3, 7, 35, 36]. Promotions are also linked to familiarity, trial and likelihood of trying Camel Dissolvables. In fact, all of the consumers who had tried Camel Dissolvables had received some type of promotion. Trial rates for those who had received any promotion were almost four times higher than the total sample (11% vs. 3%). The ITS further reinforced these findings; respondents not only believed these ads are targeted to smokers, but smokers themselves feel more targeted and are more likely to purchase these new smokeless tobacco products.
This exploratory study has several limitations. The primary retail point-of-purchase marketing strategies for RJR's Camel Dissolvable tobacco products were evaluated in only one U.S. test market. Therefore, these results may not be fully representative to the universe of tobacco retailers. In addition, the field audit did not include a detailed comparative analysis of the new products with popular cigarette products. However, our findings are consistent with the stated marketing plans of RJR and provide a snapshot of the ongoing test marketing of Camel Orbs, Sticks and Strips. Further research is needed to monitor marketing strategies and sales outcomes of these products over time. Study findings also suggest that promotions, especially those aimed at trial (i.e. in-store ads and in-bar promotions) play a major role in creating awareness and product trial. In-store and bar promotions are also consistent with a younger smoker target for Camel Dissolvables. Although these results do provide some insight into the marketing of Camel Dissolvables, they are exploratory in nature and are limited by the relatively small sample size as well as the sample selection and demographics.
While the primary audience for the point-of-purchase retail advertising and promotion of the new dissolvable products appears to be existing smokers, these promotions may increase visibility of the products to youth. The ads, candy-like appearance of the Camel Dissolvables, and their ability to be used discretely may encourage new young users. In addition, as Camel Dissolvables are promoted as a means to use tobacco where smoking is not permitted or acceptable, they may hinder quit attempts in existing smokers and promote dual use of both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. While the long-term public health consequences of dual tobacco use have not yet been established, public health and tobacco control researchers have advocated that in order to further reduce population harms from tobacco use, ST marketing activities aimed at new users or promoting dual use, including dissemination of free samples, providing consumers' instruction in product use, using youth-appealing messages, new flavorings and low nicotine levels, should be restricted . These activities are now subject to regulation as a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, enacted in 2009, which gave the FDA broad authority over the manufacture, marketing, distribution, sale, and importation of tobacco products. One major area of focus for the FDA is in evaluating products such as the Dissolvables, which are purported to reduce harm or the risk of tobacco-related diseases as compared with other commercially marketed tobacco products. To do so, the FDA must have sufficient data to understand the public health effects of such products as well as their appeal to youth . Information on the marketing and promotional strategies of new smokeless tobacco products, such as Camel Orbs, Strips and Sticks, and the impact of these products on public perceptions and tobacco use behaviours may better inform regulators and health professionals' policy and practice decisions in order to reduce future tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.