The perfect ‘product’ for nicotine addiction

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced it has awakened to the interesting idea that the way to help people quit smoking is for them to have a wider range of ‘products’ available in addition to so-called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

The FDA recognises that NRT (nicotine-containing gum, patches and lozenges) is of limited effectiveness and so it now wants the smoking public to have access to more options, in particular, e-cigarettes. Further, it wants to have NRT and e-cigarettes approved as medical products and possibly even have them covered by health insurance.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider this curious situation. In the US cigarettes are freely and legally available for sale to anyone over 18 (21 in some states). As a result many people become addicted to smoking and because of this there are about 480,000 deaths from smoking-related diseases in the US every year. And the way the government is trying to deal with this is that when people are already addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes and find it difficult to stop smoking, they should be offered nicotine in some other form as a ‘therapy’ to help them. But because NRT doesn’t work very well they need to have other products or options available as quit smoking aids.

Isn’t there something a bit odd about this? Either nicotine-containing consumer products (especially cigarettes) should cease to be available, in which case the problem wouldn’t arise for those who don’t yet smoke, or we need a radical new approach to treating nicotine addiction for those already in this unfortunate position.

It gets worse. The FDA is contemplating new measures that would enable cigarette companies to get non-cigarette nicotine-containing products approved as medicines to treat the nicotine addiction that their primary product, cigarettes, caused in the first place.

Big Tobacco must love this. They can present themselves as part of the solution to the smoking problem – a win-win situation for them because they can anticipate their income will be protected as sales of cigarettes fall while sales of alternative nicotine products rise. This might just about be acceptable if they were to announce, for example, that at the stroke of midnight on 31st December 2020 all cigarette production in the US will cease. Of course they won’t commit themselves – any suggestion of phasing out combustible tobacco products is projected to some vague time in the fairly distant future.

Tobacco companies should be seen for what they are: the whole of the problem. And the only role they can have solving it – and it would be a very big role which would virtually eliminate the problem – would be to stop making cigarettes.

Instead of pushing for this obvious measure, or even mentioning it, the FDA Commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb, verbosely talks about ‘what we can do to create additional pathways to bring additional nicotine replacement therapies to the market’.

By the time smokers are addicted to nicotine it’s too late. Dr Gottlieb is pursuing a non-existent goal. You have to remove the cause of nicotine addiction, not treat it when it’s happened. Why aren’t smokers clamouring for relief, for a ‘product’ or even for a range of options to help them escape their thraldom to nicotine?

Because the tragedy of nicotine addiction is that many sufferers don’t want to escape.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

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