Gargle Away That Nasty Habit
March 12, 2001 -- Combat smoker's breath and work toward quitting at the same time. That might be the future pitch for a new mouthwash that currently is being tested. The solution, created by an unnamed inventor, contains a copper compound that interacts with something in tobacco smoke to make the latter taste unbearably bad and hopefully rinse away the urge to light up.
"The advantage to a product like this is that people use mouth sprays and breath sprays routinely," researcher Sebastian Ciancio, DDS, tells WebMD. "It's about the same idea as chewing gum." Ciancio is professor and chair of the department of peridontology at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in New York.
But if Ciancio is referring to nicotine gums, this product is not the same at all. The new mouthwash would appear to do nothing to treat one of the main problems with smoking cessation: symptoms of withdrawal.
"With nicotine-replacement or Zyban (a prescription drug used for smoking cessation), a person wakes up and doesn't have such a powerful urge to smoke. It's treating the basic desire or craving and lessening it," says Jack Henningfield, PhD, an associate professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and vice president of research and health policy at Pinney Associates in Bethesda, Md., a consulting firm on antismoking products.
But Henningfield explains that the mouthwash does not lessen the desire or craving to smoke. It does add a step that gives a couple of hours support. "Then you're back to, 'Boy, I really want a cigarette,'" he says, adding that a strong behavioral program built around the mouthwash might overcome some of the problems.
Ciancio agrees that the mouthwash may not be the only answer to quitting smoking. "The important thing is no one gimmick is going to work if there's also not a motivational component," he tells WebMD. "There's no magic bullet."
Still, he points out that studies with hard-core smokers demonstrate the product can be effective. After using the mouthwash, even a single puff from a cigarette repulsed them, he says. And the effect lasts for about two to three hours.
Tests show it can be dosed with few side effects for up to five times a day, though it does interact with some prescription drugs. "The only side effect is if a person is taking antibiotics they can get a black pigment on the tongue," Ciancio says. "So we'd suggest not taking it if you are on antibiotics."
Other advantages to the mouthwash include good taste and a beneficial effect on the gums and teeth. And a new mouth spray version -- obviously more convenient for several-times-a-day dosing -- is testing out to be even more effective at helping smokers, he says.
"I'm not trying to be overly pessimistic or discouraging," Henningfield says. "I encourage a diversity of therapies [for smoking cessation]." But the key to helping smokers quit, he emphasizes, is to curb symptoms of withdrawal. "Otherwise, there's a real shortfall," he says. "[The mouthwash] does nothing for urges, withdrawal symptoms, and weight gain."
And those are some of the strongest reasons people keep on smoking.