Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Anti-Smoking Groups and Policy Makers Attack Big Pharma for Targeting Kids with Flavored Nicotine Replacement Products

A group of Congressmembers today released a report that criticizes pharmaceutical companies for targeting kids with candy-flavored nicotine replacement products. In addition to using appealing flavors, the report says, the pharmaceutical companies are attracting youth by using social media, sponsorship of youth-oriented events, and television and radio advertisements that reach substantial youth audiences. The report, entitled "“Gateway to Addiction? A Study of Nicotine Replacement Product Manufactureres and Marketing to Youth," is the first investigation of tactics used by pharmaceutical companies to market nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges to youth.

The major finding of the report was that pharmaceutical companies are marketing nicotine gum and lozenges in flavors that could be appealing to children and teens. Among the flavored brands of nicotine gum and lozenges cited in the report are:
  • Fruit Chill
  • Cinnamon Surge
  • Cherry
  • Orange
  • Fresh Mint
  • Extreme Chill
  • White Ice Mint
  • Spearmint Burst
The report includes pictures of product images and advertisements that appear to showcase the sweet, fruit flavorings of these products.

For example:
  • The Nicorette Fruit Chill package includes an image of fruits: pineapple, strawberry, banana, and orange.
  • An advertisement for Nicorette Fruit Chill uses the tagline: "Quitting is no vacation. But it can taste like one."
  • Nicorette's Spearmint Chill brand mimics the taste, flavor, and marketing image of youth-popular Wrigley's spearmint gum.
  • The image used on the Nicorette Fruit Chill package is almost identical to that of Trident spearmint gum, which also shows a variety of fruits.
The report also documents how pharmaceutical companies are using sponsorships of motor sports - particularly, the sponsorship of racing cars - to associate these products with youth-popular activities and events that have large youth audiences. The report includes photos, such as:
Perhaps the most damning finding of the report is the marketing of Nicorette toy race cars, a tactic that the lawmakers say can only be targeted at young children and intended to create positive associations with Nicorette in children as young as 2 and 3 years-old. The lawmakers included in the report multiple images of Nicorette toy race cars:
  • Nicorette Cinnamon Surge toy race car
  • Jeff Gordon's Nicorette Cinnamon Surge Chevy toy race car
The report also noted that popular stars, such as Jessica Simpson, have been endorsing the use of nicotine gum. Simpson - a former teen-pop sensation - told a national television audience that she was addicted to Nicorette gum, even though she had never smoked a cigarette in her life. Simpson told Jay Leno: "The first time I ever chewed a piece of Nicorette gum one of my close friends’ mother gave it to me. I think she thought she was giving me a piece of regular gum. I was chewing it and it was like a party in my mouth. It was like fireworks and 'Oh my god, I’m talking a million miles per hour and I love this gum and what kind of gum is this? I have to have this gum.'"

In citing Jessica Simpson's nationally televised testimonial to Nicorette, the report warned that "flavored nicotine replacement products may be a gateway to a lifetime of youth addiction to nicotine and tobacco."

The report concludes by calling on the Food and Drug Administration to remove candy-flavored NRT products from the market and to regulate the marketing of NRT so that it does not appeal to or target youths.

The Rest of the Story

Yes, this is satire. But it makes the point that the very same arguments that the lawmakers are using to implicate electronic cigarettes in targeting youth could be made to implicate nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum and lozenges.

The rest of the story is nicely summarized by Jacob Sullum in a Reason.com column. He concludes:

"According to the Smoking Toolkit Study, e-cigarette use in England has been rising since 2011, when the survey began. Meanwhile, the percentage of smokers who reported quitting in the previous year rose from 4.6 percent in 2011 to 6.2 percent in 2012. The cessation rate was 6.1 percent last year and 8.7 percent in the first quarter of this year. During the same period the success rate of smokers who tried to quit rose from 13.7 percent to 21.4 percent. Those numbers suggest the real promise of e-cigarettes—not as a nefarious plot to hook teenagers on nicotine but as a harm-reducing alternative to smoking. If the FDA follows Durbin's advice, it will ban most e-cigarette flavors, making the switch less appealing to smokers who prefer the prohibited varieties, and restrict e-cigarette advertising, making smokers less aware of a competing product that could literally save their lives."

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