Pesticide for your sneeze


----update Jan 24
as Tom K notes in a comment, the alleged pesticide is only a blend of citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate. Not quite DDT in other words. I wonder who at the WSJ was shorting Kimberly-Clark stock?

-----original post----------------

Pasta-damn, I certainly hope Kimberly-Clark doesn't market their new Kleenex™ with the byline, “Now With More Pesticide!!.” In fact, I would doubt very much if Kimberly-Clark is pleased with this article at all.


Can a Re-Engineered Kleenex Cure a Brand's Sniffles? - : Cheap generic tissue is tearing into its market share. Meanwhile, it faces mounting pressure in a consumer-products industry obsessed with infusing even humble paper products with innovation and high-tech ingredients. Olay's Total Effects cleansing wipes use a “Vitalipid system,” which delivers antiaging moisturizers with vitamins E, B-5 and lipids. Pledge Clean & Dust cloths contain “antistatic agents” that promise to remove dust and allergens as they clean furniture.
Where does that leave Kleenex, an 83-year-old brand so mundane it has become synonymous with tissue itself? Top executives at Kimberly-Clark Corp. are making a high-stakes bet they have an answer: Kleenex laced with a mild pesticide to fight cold and flu viruses.

in 2004, marketers gave Kleenex a new mission: kill germs. That “had the potential to grow the entire category and increase household consumption,” recalls [Steve Erb, Kleenex's associate marketing director]. “It could alter people's perceptions of what a Kleenex facial tissue could do.”

A germ-fighting tissue forced the company into unusual terrain. Because it uses a pesticide, for example, Kimberly-Clark needed to secure approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kleenex's traditional, soft-touch marketing tone would also require some tweaking. “There was discomfort over whether the power of the brand could overcome the 'killing' idea,” says Mr. Erb.

The company had stumbled along a similar path in 1984, when it also tried a germ-fighting tissue. Before the 1990s onslaught of antibacterial soaps, fabrics and hand wipes, the idea of a chemical-laced tissue was foreign to consumers. Kleenex's product cost 20% to 40% more than regular tissues. It had an intimidating name: Avert Virucidal. Consumers complained that the paper felt slimy and stung their eyes. Some even said it made them sneeze.

and I'm with Professor Stamatos, just wash your hands, please. I do have a box of Kleenex on my desk, but I'm not planning on ever (knowingly) purchasing any that contain pesticides or other toxic chemicals.

Some health experts remain skeptical of the tissue's health benefits. Cold viruses, as Kimberly-Clark points out, are expelled in the form of tiny droplets, can travel up to 320 miles per hour, land up to three feet away, and survive on surfaces for more than 24 hours. “Maybe this is an added level of protection,” says Nicholas Stamatos, assistant professor at the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “But what you're achieving with this, you'll achieve better by washing your hands.”

Some loyal Kleenex users doubt their tissues need more bells and whistles. Diane Brabender says she always has a box of tissues on hand, keeping them in both of her bathrooms, her car and her office. Ms. Brabender, a bank trust officer from Cincinnati, says she's willing to spend more for Kleenex tissues because they are softer than generic brands. Even so, she's not willing to splurge on an antiviral tissue. “I just don't believe it's really going to make a difference to my health or anyone else's,” she says. “I just need a tissue to catch my sneeze -- it doesn't have to do anything else.”

Kimberly-Clark didn't want to position Anti-Viral too aggressively as a preventive health product. “We knew it would hold the product back -- if it became the sick box,” says Gary Keider, Kleenex's marketing director. “We knew from a sales and volume perspective that the box had to be out often, otherwise consumers would use it sparingly, and at limited times.”

Hedging its bets, the company decided to trumpet the tissue's antiviral properties only on the box's plastic overlay, typically removed when the container is opened. As a reminder that the tissues are treated, a liner surrounding the box's opening says “anti-viral” in small type.

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In order to make its flu-fighting claims, Kimberly- Clark had to get approval for its pesticide-laced product from the EPA, rather than the Food and Drug Administration since tissues aren't ingested. After a yearlong review, the EPA approved the product in 2003, with certain caveats. The agency, for example, required that Kleenex state on its label that the product hadn't been tested against bacteria, fungi or other viruses.

EPA policy placed restrictions on the box design, forbidding anything that appeals directly to children. Neither could the container portray anything edible or found in nature, including flowers -- a ubiquitous design on Kleenex boxes.

For its ads, Kleenex considered a bold approach, showing a little girl blowing her nose and a message that punched up the tissue's tough side. After focus groups didn't seem to mind, the brand started running the print ads in 2005. The tagline: “Ruthless Killer.”

Priced about 40% more than standard Kleenex tissues, the product was launched in late 2004. Kimberly-Clark says that Anti-Viral now holds 4% of the U.S. market and has generated more than $140 million in global sales since its 2004 launch. Now in 22 countries, Anti-Viral's international shipments are expected to increase this year as the product passes various governmental clearances.

In addition to targeting households, Kimberly-Clark has worked hard to gain a presence in schools. Because most teachers list a box of tissue on their list of students' necessary school supplies, back-to-school season is one of the biggest selling periods for facial tissue. A nationwide Kimberly-Clark-sponsored classroom handout titled, “What To Do When You Ah-Choo! Learning About Sneezes and Sniffles,” has included buy-one-get-one-free coupons for Kleenex Anti-Viral tissues.


You wrote: "I do have a box of Kleenex on my desk, but I'm not planning on ever (knowingly) purchasing any that contain pesticides or other toxic chemicals." Don't believe everything that you read, even in the Wall Street Journal. The use of the word "pesticide" was ignorant and shameful.

The two compounds that provide the antiviral activity in the Kleenex antiviral product are citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). You eat or drink products containing citric acid and brush your teeth and shampoo your hair with products containing SLS all of the time. Citric acid is naturally in oranges, lemons, and other citrous fruits. SLS is in most, if not all, toothpastes and many shampoos. FWIW, I do not work for Kimberly Clark or have any financial interest in the company except as the stock might be in an indexed mutual fund that I own.

Interesting. I really did wonder why the WSJ used such a loaded phrase as pesticide, but didn't say what the alleged pesticide actually was, or what the danger would be.

Citric acid and SLS are extremely common, as you say, and Kimberly-Clark is probably extremly irrate with the WSJ now.

---update: my mistake - the WSJ did say what the compound is, albeit in a roundabout way. Here's the explaination:
At its facilities here in Neenah, Wis., Kimberly-Clark found a way to manufacture the antiviral tissue more cheaply than it had with Avert, while adding extra softness. This involved disassembling the three tissue layers to apply a mixture of citric acid and sodium lauryl sulfate, and then putting them back together. Chemical additives to the outer tiers gave the tissues a silky feel.

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