A Simple Tobacco Fable

Alternative products are helping to shape the future of convenience store tobacco sets.

By Lou Maiellano.

Imagine, if you will, that European explorers land in Africa, North America or South America in the 14th, 15th or 16th centuries. Upon landing, these explorers find the inhabitants of these exotic new lands drinking a strange, energizing brew and smoking the dried beans of a native tree in hand carved pipes.

But in this case, the brew is from tobacco and the smoke is from the coffee bean. The beverage delivers the energizing effects of nicotine and the pipe delivers the stimulation of caffeine in its rich, aromatic smoke. Given that set of facts in this brief, retelling of the history of the new world, how would today’s world be different? I think we know.

Today we would be looking at ever-increasing taxes, restrictions and bans directed at coffee smokers—who more than a century ago began enjoying the dried beans in a manufactured form that looks suspiciously like what we call cigarettes today. These taxes, bans and restrictions would be the result of years and years of studies that have revealed that smoking coffee causes cancers of the lung and other respiratory organs in the primary user and in those exposed to the smoke of the user. And given the effects of caffeine, we could expect that caffeine would be labeled a dangerous, addictive drug, responsible for endangering the health of billions of people worldwide.

Fear not, for the world’s pharmaceutical giants have come to the rescue, developing and marketing a variety of products claiming to cure your smoking disease through an arcane therapy called caffeine replacement.

On the other hand, nicotine, the active ingredient in the tobacco brew would be isolated and added to beverages of every kind and every flavor and made available to men, women and children of all ages.

Clouding the Issues
If you followed this fable so far, you can see where I am going. Today’s real world attitude toward tobacco is misdirected and ill-founded. It’s not what is being smoked; it’s that it is being smoked. Study after study has verified that the constituents and particulates present in the smoke are the culprits in the public health crisis related to cigarette smoking. That’s why the single most important research that focuses on tobacco usage and addiction is centered on the notion of harm reduction—eliminate the smoke, reduce the harm. We have come to understand that where there’s smoke, there’s danger.

Now let me take you into a future that seems pre-destined. Sooner or later, I have to believe that common sense will eventually prevail. Informed and insightful citizens will come to understand that tobacco is not the problem, that nicotine is not the problem. The problem is IGNITION, BURNING and SMOKE. Common sense will dictate that citizens will have the right to enjoy tobacco and nicotine in safer and saner forms—snus, sticks, orbs, beverages and electronic vaporizing devices. These methods of conveyance will be no more harmful than caffeine drinks or energy shots.

Today, given the success that an electronic cigarette importer has had in suing the FDA, we can expect to see new and novel methods of conveying the effect of tobacco and nicotine. Already we have seen sales of snus increase. Sticks and orbs now appear throughout the retail supply chain and recent reports suggest that electronic cigarette sales in the U.S. are approaching $200 million on an annual basis. And these are all tobacco products, not the over-priced and over-hyped products of the conflicted pharmaceutical industry.

Cigarette alternatives, containing tobacco and nicotine are the products of the future. It’s not too early to begin to consider where they should be placed at retail and how they should be merchandised because the future is now if you’re in the tobacco trade.
Lou Maiellano spent more than 20 years in several operational positions with Sunoco, Mobil and Wawa and currently operates TobaccoToday (www.tobaccotoday.info), an interactive tobacco industry blog. He can be reached at (267) 229-3856 or via email at tazmktgconsultgr@aol.com.



  1. Good points all, Lou, and well said.  I would add that in the US at least, Altria and Reynolds in particular are reporting slowly declining sales of cigarettes while the sale of smoke-free nicotine alternatives continue to rise.  This can ultimately be a huge health and business win for all parties from manufacturers to consumers.  Lets hope common sense prevails over Big Pharma, Big Government, and ideologues. 

  2. Good article.  Just want to add that I find it ironic that the loudest opposition to these health-sparing, life-saving alternatives is coming from the very organizations that claim they want to help folks to stop smoking: American Lung Assn, American Heart Assn, American Cancer Soc., Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, etc. They confuse the public by saying “smoking cessation” when what they really mean is “nicotine cessation.” They miss the point. Q: What do you call someone who replaced all their combustible cigarettes with an e-cigarette, dissolvable tobacco product, and/or snus?  A: A former smoker.

  3. Thank goodness we are finally starting to see more and more of these common sense articles.  Sometimes you have to wonder if truth and common sense will prevail when so many people with so much money are fighting so hard to ensure that the public remains in the dark.  As an electronic cigarette user for over 32 months, I have seen tremendous increases in my lung health.  I have also watched as those organizations that pretend to care about my health have tried their best to bury the truth and keep the gravy train of useless pharmaceutical quit-smoking products rolling along.  Just look at how much money some of these “non-profit” health organizations get in grants from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.  Or look and see who created and funded Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.  Yes, that’s right, RWJF again.  Now look and see where the billions of dollars that RWJF has to throw around actually comes from.  The answer is the pharmaceutical industry.

  4. Great article and a point I’ve tried to make to the anti-nicotine and tobacco zealots for a while now.

    Over and over again, former smokers – who are now non-smoking tobacco and nicotine users – are told that they “haven’t really quit” because they still consume nicotine or tobacco. We have just “changed one bad habit for another” or “exchanged one crutch for another” and we continue to be treated as pariahs because we are “still addicts.” They have completely lost sight of the fact that nicotine addiction only became an issue when it was determined to be the main reason for smoking. Now it seems nicotine cessation has become the ultimate goal, rather than the means to an end (smoking cessation) as it was originally intended. 
    Yet caffeine dependence (ie. addiction,) with very similar health risks as nicotine dependence, is not considered a “real” addiction. Someone dependent upon caffeine or other attention, mood or personality-altering drugs sold by pharmaceutical companies such as Anafranil, Adapin, Aventyl, Elavil, Norpramin, Pamelor, Pertofrane, Sinequan, Surmontil, Tofranil, Vivactil, 
    Parnate, Nardil, Marplan, 
    Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin Effexor, Remeron, Cymbalta, Desyrel, Ludiomil, Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan (all drugs with possible side effects and many are addictive) is not similarly vilified for needing a “crutch” to get through their day. People dependent upon caffeine are considered “quaint’ and those dependent upon pharmaceutical drugs not only receive tolerance, they receive understanding and even sympathy. 

    Nicotine is no more harmful than these other chemicals nor does it intoxicate the user like many illicit drugs do. There is simply no reason to expect abstinence from a product that does not have significant health risks nor puts bystanders at risk – yet they do expect us to quit regardless.

  5. NRT for me says:

     I read with interest your recent article in Convenience Store Decisions; however, I am concerned that you are taking several assumptions and leaps of judgment when discussing the exciting potential of harm reduction. Although you are correct that the inhalation of noxious fumes is a significant cause of the cancers and other diseases associated with tobacco use, there are still numerous health concerns that are directly connected to use of any form of tobacco product-including snus and spit tobacco. The other products that you mentioned, such as orbs and sticks, may eventually prove correct your assertion that they are safe alternatives to smoking; however, they are such new products that the only research on their safety to date has been done by tobacco companies. And I’m sure you can agree that any company conducting research on their own product will find self-serving results, no matter whether it is “Big Pharma” or tobacco companies. Nicotine replacement therapy, which since it is not sold in convenience stores seems to receive a great deal of negative press in your article, is a safe and clinically proven treatment for nicotine addiction. No tobacco company-produced product can make that same claim.
      While smoking cessation is very important, spit tobacco (including Snus) and other tobacco options are not safe alternatives. There are numerous diseases and illnesses that have been scientifically linked to spit tobacco including gingivitis, tooth decay, cardiovascular disease, and oral, esophageal, pharyngeal, laryngeal, stomach, and pancreatic cancer. The most dangerous of these health issues is oral cancer, which has a mortality rate of 54% within five years of diagnosis. The risk for developing oral cancer from spit tobacco has been found to be 14 times greater than the risk in non-users. With the other products, it is still a matter of not having enough time and research to validate that they are safe options. In the future, that may prove true but at this time, it is risky to say that orbs and sticks are perfectly safe and healthy alternatives.
      Besides the health risks associated with the use of spit tobacco, there are other concerns with harm reduction. There could be an increase in use among adolescents who think ‘smokeless is harmless’ when it comes to spit tobacco or other tobacco options, an overall increase in the use of tobacco by nonusers, and an increase in sales of high nicotine products that raise the risk for addiction.
      Nicotine products like the patch and gum deliver necessary amounts of the drug to overcome addiction withdrawal without ANY of the risks of tobacco use.” There are clinically proven options available that do not include any increased risk of cancer that should be utilized rather than other forms of tobacco. While there is a chance that these other tobacco company produced options may be equally successful, without the research to validate that, I feel it is inherently dangerous to make such a strong recommendation in a published source.
      Thank you for bringing the topic of harm reduction to a new audience, and I hope that together, we can decrease all tobacco use now and in the future.

  6. Open dialogue is what is needed not the one sided distractions from the anti-tobacco side. As Dr Seigel discusses so frequently the anti’s are just going over board!

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