New chew made from tea leaves

A new type of non-tobacco chew is the first made with nicotine.

by Mike Enright

Bill Whalen said his chewing tobacco days began as a football player at the University of Pennsylvania.

Whalen regularly chewed a tin a day, which contains the same amount of nicotine as 60 cigarettes. It wasn’t until getting married and having kids that he realized he had to stop.

“I think every dipper, at some point in their life, realizes it’s time to quit,” Whalen said.

But, when push came to shove, Whalen couldn’t beat his addiction.

“So I decided to come up with something that was going to be much better,” he said. “Something that would allow me to dip Ö but take away all the carcinogens.”

Seven years later, Whalen is the CEO and founder of Blue Whale, LLC, and creator of what he calls a smokeless tobacco alternative, made from a blend of more than 20 different kinds of tea leaves.

The product, Blue Whale Smokeless, which has been available in Texas since the end of September, is now on its way to Minnesota and should be available in select stores over the next several weeks, said Chris Giannini, the company’s director of strategic marketing.

And although Blue Whale is not the first smokeless tobacco alternative – others include Smokey Mountain, Bacc-Off and Golden Eagle – it is the only brand that contains nicotine.

“The other ones are about as helpful as chewing gum,” Whalen said.

Blue Whale combines the best of both worlds, he said, because it has everything chewing tobacco users want without sharing any of the negative health consequences.

“It’s genuinely a better product,” said Whalen, who has been using it exclusively for two years now.

Giannini said Whalen’s creation also breaks the stigma of most smokeless tobacco alternatives, which often don’t live up to users’ expectations.

“He’s really come up with the first real-world solution to finding an alternative to smokeless tobacco,” he said. “It provides all of the benefits, without the cancer-causing carcinogens.”

Others are less sure of Blue Whale’s superiority.

Dorothy Hatsukami, director of the University’s Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center, was quick to point out that no independent research has yet been done to confirm the company’s findings.

“I’m hesitant to recommend it as an alternative to chewing tobacco until there is sufficient evidence to show what the toxicity of this product is, the levels of nicotine it delivers,” she said.

Compared with regular chewing tobacco, which is known to increase users’ risk for cancer, diabetes and a host of other health problems, Blue Whale might be less harmful, but by how much remains uncertain, Hatsukami said.

“Certainly, it is far less toxic than many of the tobacco products that are out there,” she said. “But you are still being exposed to nicotine, which is addictive and has some risk factors in its own right.”

Economics junior and chewing tobacco user Shea McAdaragh might not be sure whether Blue Whale is safer than chewing tobacco, but he does know the risks associated with dipping.

“You can get lip cancer, tongue cancer, throat cancer or stomach cancer if you swallow, which I don’t do,” he said. “It’s like going to the casino and putting $500,000 down; you know you could walk away fine or you could walk away losing your entire life savings. You don’t know.”

McAdaragh, who has been chewing for seven years and usually goes through two tins in a week, said he began dipping as a teenager working construction.

“All the guys I worked with were all chewers, every single one of them, even my boss,” he said. “They didn’t have any qualms about giving it to a 15-year-old.”

Calling it his “favorite vice, by far,” McAdaragh said he chews because it accentuates everything he does, whether it’s playing video games or taking a shower.