Californians Chew More Tobacco
State sales of smokeless tobacco products have tripled in the past decade.
California has seen a steep rise in sales of smokeless tobacco products (like chewing tobacco and snuff) over the last decade, according to a new public health report. The state has the second lowest rate for smoking—second only to Utah—but in 2011, roughly $211 million smokeless tobacco and nicotine products were sold there, compared to $77 million in 2001. Youth seems to be driving the market: a reported 3.9% of students used the products in 2010, up from 3.1% in 2004. Chewing tobacco and snuff are the top selling products, followed by Snus (small packets of tobacco that are placed under the lip) and dissolvable products like orbs and strips. "Some of these products are really flying under the radar," says Colleen Stevens, branch chief of the tobacco control program for the Department of Public Health. She says the discreet nature of these products makes them popular among high school students. The report also found an increase in teen use of hookahs and cigarillos—both products that are associated with an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. Illegal sales of tobacco to minors are also on the rise, especially from outlets like doughnut shops, delis and discount stores. "Kids are smart," says Stevens. "All it takes is one place that is selling tobacco and it goes through the grapevine and kids know where that store is." California's Public Health Director Ron Chapman says he plans to closely monitor illegal sales and to use federal funding to expand enforcement.