- Mainichi Shimbun
Medical organizations and antismoking groups are up fuming over a trial “tobacco gum” product that is being sold in Japan, demanding that health authorities remove it from shelves.
A packet of the controversial tobacco gum.
The Firebreak brand tobacco gum, a Swedish-produced product, is legally classified as tobacco but has similar shape and flavor to chewing gum.
The Ministry of Finance approved the product on Sept. 11 and about 60,000 packets have already been imported into the country. Since the gum doesn’t produce any smoke it is being marketed as a product that allows people to enjoy tobacco without having to worry about others.
One piece of gum contains one milligram of nicotine, and each piece is advertised as being the equivalent of one cigarette, but lasting for about 20 minutes. The gum has a mint flavor, but a spicier flavor comes out when it is chewed. However, critics say that since the ingredients of the tobacco go straight into people’s mouths, harmful ingredients are more easily absorbed compared with rolled tobacco. They say this could lead to oral cancer.
On Nov. 4, the Japanese Society for Dental Health and the Japanese Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons requested that the Finance Ministry withdraw approval of the product. Representatives of an antismoking association also demanded that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which deals with food product safety, take measures against the gum as a harmful product.
Kazunori Nakakuki, a part-time lecturer at the Nippon Dental University who filed a request was dumbfounded at the approval of the gum. “I can’t understand why it was approved when tobacco regulations are tightening over the world,” he said. “There is a possibility minors will chew it.” At a press conference held on Friday at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, a representative of the company marketing the product said the claims against the gum were baseless, adding there was no harm of inhaling smoke, like with traditional cigarettes.
“Japan has a high smoking rate, but this year a law to requiring a cut in passive smoking was put into effect and we chose (the product) for the market. We want to decide whether to begin full-fledged marketing after continuing the trial sales,” the representative said. Sales of the gum began in convenience stores and tobacco retailers across Japan from Oct. 16. Each packet, containing 10 gum pieces, retails for 280 yen.