In an act that could be construed as somewhat reckless and irresponsible, tobacco companies have introduced a new line of products that have the look and taste of candy. While there may be numerous reasons for developing such a thing, including making the consumption of tobacco, and by extension, nicotine, more convenient and enjoyable, one consequence of their actions (which surely must not have escaped their scrutiny) is that the new products would appeal to children.

As reported on CNN.com, the products are currently being tested on consumers and have been designed to resemble breath mints. Their purpose is not meant to help in smoking cessation, but rather offer an alternative way to consume tobacco, especially where smoking is not allowed. Of course, this ease of consumption also means that they can be more easily ingested by children, either by accident or in an effort to hide their tobacco usage.

The potential consequences of these actions are obvious. Because it looks and tastes like candy, there is a greater likelihood of accidental ingestion and consequently, nicotine poisoning.

And while poisoning is a significant concern, another big issue from a public health perspective is the experimentation with nicotine by minors. According to the experts, adolescent usage of smokeless tobacco increased by 6% each year between 2002 to 2006. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of the people who choose smokeless forms of tobacco are underage. If tobacco has a benign or harmless appearance (i.e., like candy) it might confuse children into thinking it is harmless, thereby leading try it and potentially become addicted or poisoned.

Nicotine is in fact a poison, and smokeless tobacco is the second most common source of nicotine poisoning in children after cigarettes. After reviewing information from poison control centers, researchers were able to identify over 13,000 cases tobacco ingestion (1,768 were linked to smokeless tobacco) over a two year period (2006-2008). The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that most of these incidences involved infants. Nicotine poisoning can result in nausea and vomiting, and in extreme cases, cause convulsions and death. According to the experts, just 0.5 milligrams of nicotine per pound of body weight can be a lethal dose in children.

When scientists examined the nicotine content of these “candies,” they found that some of them contained, on average, 0.83 milligrams of nicotine in each piece. Furthermore, some of the chemical is in an un-ionized form that allows it to absorb more rapidly into the blood stream, and may also make it more toxic.

One major tobacco company has denied any wrongful intent, and insists that their product packaging is completely child-resistant and in no way intended for consumption by minors. However, some of these same safeguards and warnings are employed with cigarettes and chewing tobacco, and in numerous instances they have limited efficacy.

The take-home message is that parents need to be aware of what their children are exposed to. If you smoke or consume smokeless forms of tobacco, then quitting is obviously the best course of action. Not only can it save your life and the lives of those around you, but you will, without question, save substantial amounts of money and make you look, smell and feel better.

For more information about nicotine poisoning, talk to you pediatrician and visit the website for the National Library of Medicine. For help in beating addiction to nicotine, talk to you primary care physician about what you can do, and visit the homepage for SmokeFree.gov.