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Altria Tests New Nicotine Pill 

Want a nicotine hit without the cancer-causing smoke, or having to duck out of the bar or restaurant?

Richmond-based Altria is rolling out an alternative called Verve. It's a pill-like product made of nicotine, cellulose fibers and polymers. Available as part of test-marketing in June at Sheetz gasoline stations in the Richmond area, Verve is designed to satisfy addictive nicotine cravings without the lung-damaging and cancer-causing tobacco smoke. You spit out the pill when the nicotine's used up, typically after about 15 minutes.

Made by Altria subsidiary Nu Mark, Verve is the latest in Altria's stable of smokeless tobacco products, including snuff such as Copenhagen and Skoal, and the spit-less Marlboro Snus. Rival R.J. Reynolds Inc. is experimenting with nicotine-laced chewing gum and Tic Tac-like candy.

For Altria, Verve can help the cigarette maker deal with the health impacts and popular trends away from smokes. Sales of its cigarettes, such as Marlboro, slipped 2.6 percent to 31 billion units last year. Smokeless products have shown slow but steady growth from $1.3 billion in 2009 to $1.6 billion last year. Altria, which employs more than 5,000 workers in the Richmond area, had net revenues of $23.8 billion last year.

Not everyone's happy with Verve. Matthew L. Myers, president of the lobby Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, complains in a statement that Verve isn't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The regulatory agency was given power over cigarettes in 2009 and said in 2010 that it will oversee all tobacco-based products but has yet to do so, Myers says.

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