Smokers who must step outside for that quick fix or whose states are considering public bans may not have to worry much longer -- if a new tobacco product hits the market.
Two top U.S. tobacco companies are testing a new "pouch" product that would cease the need for lighters and matches.
Philip Morris USA has introduced Taboka, which comes in small pouches that can be placed between the lip and the gums for five minutes to 30 minutes and then thrown out. Each tin carries 12 pouches of tobacco and costs about the same as a pack of cigarettes. The company is testing the product in Indianapolis retail stores.
Also, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. is testing Camel Snus -- named after a popular and decades-old smokeless tobacco product in Sweden -- in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore. It also costs the same as a pack of cigarettes.
Unlike chewing tobacco or similar products -- such as dip, snuff or chew -- Taboka and Camel Snus don't need to be chewed or spat out frequently. While they may be convenient, these products still carry their own health risks, albeit smaller than those associated with cigarettes, health experts say.
Smokeless tobacco is ground and pasteurized, and comes in loose and pouch form. Users usually place the product behind the upper lip.
Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds say they're developing the new pouches in response to smokers' demands.
Many smokers who use their products, they say, are looking for the most convenient ways they can enjoy nicotine, especially because of increasing smoking bans. A pouch that can be simply tossed out, the companies say, is what consumers want.
Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco pouches have about the same nicotine content.
Jonathan Foulds, director of the Tobacco Dependence Program in New Jersey, said smoking a cigarette, though, was not the same as using a smokeless tobacco pouch. The way in which nicotine is delivered makes all the difference, he says.
"You can't beat a cigarette for nicotine delivery. It's much faster and in a more concentrated form," Foulds said. "Cigarettes are like a Ferrari, and the [smokeless] pouch is like a secondhand Ford."
Both companies are targeting current adult smokers for the new product and make clear statements about the health risks associated with smokeless tobacco.
Medical experts say that although there are certain risks associated with smokeless tobacco use, the smokeless option is far safer than smoking.
"This is the crux of misinformation. Mouth cancer risks are decidedly lower for smokeless tobacco than risks for smoking," said Brad Rodu, who has been an oral pathologist for 30 years and is now a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville Cancer Center in Kentucky. He runs a Web site in support of using smokeless tobacco as a way to help smokers stop smoking cigarettes.
Foulds agreed, adding that smokeless tobacco was about 90 percent less harmful than cigarettes.
Even so, he says that mouth cancer is still a possibility and depending on the specific amount of cancer-causing ingredients in different smokeless tobacco products, the risk could be higher. Plus, there is no real way to know what U.S. tobacco companies put in their smokeless tobacco products, Foulds said.