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A Sucker Punch Against Smoking

Listen up, FDA: Nicotine lollipops beat the gum and the patch.

April 20, 2002|SEAN CARTER | Sean Carter is a lawyer.

As a smoker, I can attest that, with the possible exceptions of performing neurosurgery, playing the violin or operating a "childproof" lighter, there is nothing more difficult than quitting smoking. This is not to say that it is impossible to quit. In fact, I've quit smoking several times.

Because of people such as myself, an entire industry has grown around smoking cessation. Several companies offer nicotine gum and patches. And recently, some companies have began to market new nicotine-laden products, such as nicotine lip balm and even nicotine water.

In my efforts to quit smoking, I've tried many of these products. They all seem to have at least one major drawback.

For instance, the nicotine gum is wonderful for getting a quick nicotine "pick-me-up" when you can't light up. However, as you can imagine, it doesn't go particularly well with an after-dinner wine. Moreover, I find it difficult to justify leaving my office at work every 15 minutes to take a gum break.

The nicotine patch has one major advantage: simplicity. You simply stick the patch to your arm and all of your nicotine needs are met for the day. Well, almost all of them.

For one, the nicotine patch doesn't satisfy the oral and manual fixations that afflict many smokers. Second, most smokers are not craving a constant flow of nicotine. Rather, look for an abrupt change in body chemistry, which helps us stave off boredom, stress and annoying nonsmokers.

That's why I was excited when I heard about a new smoking-cessation aid hitting the market: nicotine lollipops. The lollipops seemed to provide good solutions to the major drawbacks of the gum and the patch. Moreover, you can still look cool sucking on a lollipop. After all, it worked for Telly Savalas on the hit TV show "Kojak." And let's face it, trying to look cool is what made most of us take up smoking in the first place.

However, before I could shave my head and start saying, "Who loves you, baby?" the Food and Drug Administration halted the sale of nicotine lollipops. According to the FDA, the nicotine used in the lollipops, nicotine salicylate, has not been tested for safety or effectiveness.

The FDA's action in this matter is questionable for a number of reasons. For one, when did the FDA gain jurisdiction over nicotine products? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, not the FDA, oversees the tobacco industry.

As a legal matter, the FDA has about as much control over cigarettes as I have over my children.

Nevertheless, the FDA claims that it has jurisdiction over smoking-cessation aids because they are "drugs." And the FDA's policy is to test all drugs before they are sold. This is the kind of backward thinking that typifies large bureaucracies and my wife's side of the family.

After all, maybe it's just me, but I'm willing to take my chances with the lollipops. In fact, I don't care if they contain trace elements of gasoline, Drano or my wife's meatloaf; they have to be safer than cigarettes.

However, the FDA disagrees. As a result, a "drug" that could possibly reduce smoking deaths will be held up for safety reasons while cigarettes will continued to be sold to the same people being "protected" by the FDA.

In answer to Kojak's immortal question, "Who loves you, baby?": certainly not the FDA.

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