Big tobacco has known for decades that nicotine patches, lozenges and gum hardly ever help smokers quit on their own, and yet the companies have in recent years ramped up efforts to sell the products.
Such were the findings of a study released on Thursday from UC San Francisco, where researchers were surprised to learn that tobacco companies have come to view nicotine replacement therapy “as just another product” rather than a threat to cigarette sales.
“The tobacco companies want people to get nicotine — and they’re open-minded about how they get it,” Dorie Apollonio, an associate professor in clinical pharmacy at UCSF who authored the study, said in a statement.
The researchers are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider how the products are marketed as well as their availability over-the-counter, since studies show smokers often use the products as smokeless options.
“Tobacco companies put out these products as a way to sidestep policies, by giving people a way to ‘smoke without smoking,’” Apollonio said. “This can basically facilitate and normalize lifelong nicotine addiction.”
The researchers found that tobacco companies started to make a big push to sell nicotine replacement therapy products after the FDA started regulating cigarettes in 2009, according to a news release from UCSF.
Before then, researchers said tobacco companies did not focus on selling the products out of fear of attracting FDA regulation.
RJ Reynolds is one of the tobacco companies that markets the nicotine gum as a smokeless option.
Spokesperson David Howard said RJ Reynolds purchased a Swedish company called Niconovum in 2009 and began to sell its Zonnic Gum at convenience stores in the U.S. in 2012.
“Obviously it’s because there are adult smokers who wish to quit and need help to do so, we have a product to do that,” Howard said. “We have a total tobacco portfolio.”
Howard said that previous studies have shown that nicotine replacement therapy products have “limited success,” but selling products like gum in small quantities at convenience stores could “improve rates by making them available.”
Last month, the FDA decided to lower the amount of nicotine allowed in conventional cigarettes, according to the news release.
“The industry has long taken a broad view of all nicotine products as a way to support smoking,” Stanton Glantz, director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, said in a statement.
“Our study shows that by not regulating nicotine in all tobacco products, including NRT, the FDA could be walking into a trap.”
The researchers also found that the companies have known since 1992 that the products rarely work on their own.
The researchers used decades of internal corporate documents called the Tobacco Papers from seven major tobacco companies.
The study was published Tuesday in the American Journal of Public Health.