Are cigarettes drugs? The FDA once argued that a cigarette is a “high technology nicotine delivery system” and therefore should be subject to regulation.
A lot of people thought the FDA was way out of line with such an argument. Smokers don’t like to think of cigarettes as drugs and they don’t want the FDA meddling in their private lives.
But nicotine is a drug and a highly addictive one at that. As more restrictions are placed on smoking in public places, people are looking for other ways of getting their nicotine fix.
Lots of new products are being introduced to satisfy Americans’ unquenchable craving for nicotine. Pharmaceutical companies have developed a range of products as aids to quitting smoking. They include nicotine gum (Nicorette) nicotine skin patches (Habitrol, Nicoderm CQ, Nicotrol), a nicotine “inhalation system” (Nicotrol Inhaler) and a nicotine nasal spray (Nicotrol NS).
Compounding pharmacists jumped into the act with nicotine-laced lollipops. Putting nicotine on (rather than in) a stick allowed the customer to choose from sophisticated flavors like eggnog, apricot or tequila sunrise.
But the FDA decided that suckers (with catchy names like NicoPop, Likatine and NicoStop) weren’t approved drugs. Sales of the nicotine ingredient used in lollipops were reported as soaring 2000 percent between 2000 and 2001. Some smokers happily traded in their cigarettes for grape, watermelon or strawberry-flavored candy.
But critics charge that making nicotine delicious poses a danger of hooking a new generation of even younger consumers. FDA has not reviewed safety and efficacy data on these lollipops as it has for approved smoking cessation aids. Consequently, the agency decided to ban sales of the lollipops until data is submitted for official approval.
Nicotine-spiked bottled water, lip balm, gummy lozenges and hard candy may also be pulled off the market because of increased scrutiny.
Another product aiming at the same market is a “compressed hard tobacco bit.” It looks a little like a breath mint, but the manufacturer, Star Scientific, bristles at having its Ariva tobacco pellet termed a lozenge. It is designed to melt in the mouth and is being marketed as an alternative to cigarettes for use where smoking is forbidden or inappropriate.
People have worked so diligently to devise nicotine delivery systems instead of just making a pill that could be swallowed because nicotine is not absorbed well from the stomach. In addition, it can be irritating to the digestive tract, causing hiccups, heartburn and nausea.
Nicotine is carried in smoke and is well absorbed through the lining of the lungs or mouth. This explains why cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco have been so successful for so long. Lollipops, chewing gum, candy, nicotine-impregnated straws and nasal sprays deliver the drug to the same tissues without some of the nasty compounds created when tobacco burns.
Whether the tasty new products will actually help millions quit smoking or whether people will simply switch their addiction to nicotine-containing lozenges remains to be determined. Since the FDA can’t ban cigarettes, it has taken out its wrath on lollipops.