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Get Ready for Nicotine Water

Controversial Product May Be on Store Shelves Next Month
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

May 28, 2002 -- Nicotine-spiked bottled water is the latest in a line of controversial products being marketed to smokers who want to satisfy their cigarette cravings without lighting up. Like the nicotine-laden lollipops and lip balms outlawed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April, NICO Water is drawing sharp fire from antismoking advocates.

But the FDA has taken no action to keep it off store shelves, and its marketer says the water will be widely available by late June.

Steve Reder, president of California-based Quick Test Five, tells WebMD that the company will soon have the capacity to distribute 1 million bottles of the nicotine-laced water each month to drug and convenience stores throughout the country. He says the water is being marketed exclusively to the adult smoker and is in no way intended for sale to children and nonsmokers.

"We are giving people with this addiction an alternative to cigarettes," says Reder, who does not smoke. "There are 48 million smokers in America alone who are addicted to cigarettes. I would love for everybody to stop smoking, but that is impossible."

Critics charge that products like this one, designed to deliver nicotine without the cigarette, help people to maintain their addiction because they can be used in places where smoking is not allowed. Each bottle of the water contains 4 milligrams of nicotine, which is the equivalent of that found in about four cigarettes or a stick of nicotine gum.

Antismoking advocate Danny Goldrick says the new products are no different from the light and low-tar cigarettes popular a generation ago. They were marketed as safer than regular cigarettes, but studies showed that people simply smoked more of them or inhaled deeper to get their nicotine fix. Goldrick is director of research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"In essence, (light and low-tar cigarettes) were a public health disaster and they probably stopped a lot of people who were concerned about smoking from quitting," Goldrick tells WebMD. "The last thing we need is a whole new generation of these products that discourage people from quitting, abet their nicotine addictions, and contribute to the hundreds of thousands of smoking deaths every year."

Critics are also skeptical that the nicotine water can be kept out of the hands of children. Reder says he strongly favors a voluntary carding program to make sure the water is not sold to people under the age of 18. But Goldrick counters that carding is only marginally effective in preventing the sale of cigarettes to minors, even though such sales are illegal.

Late last year, 20 health organizations -- including Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society, and the American Medical Association -- petitioned the FDA to ban the sale of nicotine-spiked water and four other nicotine-delivery products until their safety is determined through independent testing. FDA spokeswoman Kathleen Kolar tells WebMD that these petitions are under review but have not been acted on.

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