Smoking cessation category looks over the counter to kick butts

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Smoking cessation category looks over the counter to kick butts

By Sandra Levy - 08/10/2009

NEW YORK —The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act recently signed by President Obama is expected to lead to a decline in smoking and an increase in quit attempts, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And given the Food and Drug Administration’s recent mandate that prescription smoking cessation drugs Chantix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride) carry black-box warnings on the potential risks of psychiatric problems, the nonprescription smoking cessation aids category may get a boost.

According to Nielsen, sales of over-the-counter smoking-cessation products have increased as new federal and state taxes have boosted the price of a pack of cigarettes to $10 or more. In the most recent four-week period ended May 16, dollar sales of the aids rose 18.9% over the same period in 2008.

Smoking-cessation expert Saul Shiffman, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, believed the OTC category may see an upturn in sales. “Smokers may take another look at the OTCs. We hope people wouldn’t turn away from treatment, but if they are concerned about side effects, that they would turn to those medications which haven’t raised that concern,” Shiffman said.

Shiffman said consumers may be unaware that the new black-box warnings apply to prescription products and not to the OTCs. “As consumers become aware of that, you may see more people using OTC products. The hope is that people will not be discouraged from seeking medications to help them quit smoking,” Shiffman asserted.

Noting that the median number of quit attempts is about five, Shiffman said, “I suspect that is growing because the people who are left have a hard time quitting. Over 40% of smokers have made a quit attempt at least once in any given year. We know that people who have tried medications before are likely to try again.” Shiffman said he has seen people’s quit attempts fail because they didn’t use the medication properly or appropriately. “They don’t use enough of the gums and lozenges to get appropriate dosing, and they stop using the patch too soon,” he said.

Joel Zive, owner of Zive Pharmacy in Bronx, N.Y., said sales of OTC smoking aids may depend on what smokers’ insurance plans pay for. He also believed that Obama’s action and the black-box warnings may shake the smoking cessation category up and induce people to seek help.

Will more smokers try to quit? GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare’s Janet Carter-Smith, VP corporate development, said, “Certainly, in these economic times, many smokers are starting to reevaluate their addiction and trying to quit smoking for good. We know that most smokers (about 70%) want to quit, and research shows that policy changes, like an increase in the price of cigarettes or expansion of smoke-free laws, encourage many smokers to make quit attempts.” Carter-Smith said that the majority of smokers quit without the help of cessation tools, but only 3% to 5% are successful long term.

Finally, Fred Mayer, president of Pharmacists Planning Service Inc., pointed out that with 400,000 tobacco-related deaths per year, “smoking cessation is the easiest preventable cause of morbidity and mortality. Pharmacists can play a key role in getting patients to stop smoking,” he said.