Author: Lizzie Johnson
Date: August 17, 2017
Nicotine patches, lozenges, inhalers and gum have long been marketed as ways of helping addicts break the habit. But such products by themselves won’t do the job — something tobacco companies themselves have taken advantage of to boost their profits, new research from UCSF says.
Nicotine replacement therapy products, which have been sold over the counter at drugstores since 1996, are effective only when paired with counseling, according to a UCSF study released Thursday. Without that, relying on such products can actually make it harder to kick tobacco, the study found.
UCSF researchers who reviewed millions of pages of internal tobacco company documents said the firms have long known that such products by themselves don’t wean users off cigarettes, and market their own smokeless nicotine to keep users addicted.
“Those products should not be used unless they are done in the proper way,” said Stanton Glantz, an author of the study, professor of medicine at UCSF and the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
“The problem is, without the behavioral support, they actually inhibit quitting,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people think they are making progress and quitting when that’s not so. That’s what tobacco companies have known for decades. They’re developing products under the guise of nicotine replacement therapy.”
Some of the biggest tobacco companies, including RJ Reynolds, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, have developed nicotine accessories. Many corner stores stock the products, some of them in brightly colored packages, next to chocolate bars and other candy near the cash register.
Medi-Cal and many private health insurance policies cover the cost of quitting aids. State-subsidized insurance will pay for two annual courses of treatment with pills such as Chantix and Zyban, Nicorette lozenges, Nicorette gum and NicoDerm CQ Patches.
But people are more likely to use those products as complements to smoking — at work or in airplanes when cigarettes are banned — instead of as a tool to quit, the UCSF study found. Nicotine replacement products can be effective if people combine them with counseling and consultation with a doctor, but the majority of consumers don’t use them that way, researchers said.
Randomized clinical trials cited in the study showed that people who went to counseling and tapered their use of nicotine replacement therapy products over time were successful. Those who didn’t were not.
A 2009 study in the BMJ — formerly known as the British Medical Journal — found that of the 2,767 smokers tested, only 6.75 percent were able to abstain from cigarettes for six months while using nicotine replacement therapy products.
Nicotine patches and gum were first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1984, and the tobacco industry originally saw them as a threat, the UCSF study said. By 1992, however, company executives determined such products would not help smokers quit, and that there was money to be made from them. By 2009, tobacco companies were selling their own nicotine patches, lozenges and e-cigarettes.
“It was surprising to discover the industry came to view NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) as just another product,” said Dorie Apollonio, an associate professor in clinical pharmacy at UCSF and lead author of the study. “The tobacco companies want people to get nicotine — and they’re open-minded about how they get it.”
Representatives of RJ Reynolds, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco did not respond to requests for comment.
Apollonio’s researchers analyzed 90 million pages of documents from seven tobacco companies dating back as far as 1960, obtained in litigation against the tobacco industry.
Those papers showed that the tobacco industry began developing its own nicotine replacement products after its research showed that some smokers used them in addition to tobacco.
“The way the marketing is framed, it is explicitly discouraging quitting,” Glantz said. “The tobacco companies know more about tobacco products than anybody else. Now they are selling these products in a way that protects their market. I do not think most health professionals are aware of this.”
But some are. Derek Smith, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Tobacco Free Project, said he encourages smokers to check with their pharmacists or doctors before trying a nicotine replacement therapy like a patch or pill.
“You can’t plop on a patch and expect to quit smoking,” he said. “It’s part of the arsenal to tackle this complicated addiction. Smokers know better than anyone how hard it is to quit. It takes eight or 10 times before it sticks. In my experience, they are really aware what a tough addiction it is and how a patch isn’t the magical solution.”
A free smoking cessation program offered by the city at San Francisco General Hospital funnels smokers through a seven-class session. The weekly meetings teach participants how to create a plan with a quit date and identify stressful situations that lead to smoking. Instructors teach them to drink more water and improve their diet to help cope with cravings.
Patches, gum and e-cigarettes can be useful tools, Smith said. It didn’t surprise him that the tobacco industry had started creating its own products.
“Those internal documents reveal their intentions,” he said. “It’s always fascinating to see how the tobacco industry is thinking. They have an opportunistic assessment of the market. It never ceases to amaze me.”