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New Nicotine Inhaler May Help Smokers Quit

Vapor Puffs From New Device Carry Nicotine Deep into Lung
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 1, 2010 -- A new type of smoke-free inhaler gives would-be quitters a vapor with nearly as much nicotine as a cigarette.

Nicotine replacement is one of the most effective tools for helping smokers quit, says Jed Rose, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Cessation Research.

"There is the patch, gum, lozenges, and the current inhaler. But none effectively satisfy a smoker's craving for the act of inhaling and feeling nicotine going into the lungs and giving that rapid boost of nicotine into the bloodstream in a user-friendly way," Rose tells WebMD.

The problem is that cigarettes are still the most efficient nicotine-delivery device ever created, says Scott McIntosh, PhD, associated director of the smoking research program at the University of Rochester, N.Y., who was not involved in the Rose project.

"It would be great to have a product that would deliver nicotine as well as a cigarette," McIntosh tells WebMD.

That's exactly what Rose's and colleagues -- including James E. Turner, co-inventor of the older Nicotrol/Nicorette inhaler -- set out to invent.

The device they came up with does not use fire or heat. Instead, as the smoker draws air through the cigarette-shaped device, a chemical called pyruvic acid is drawn into contact with nicotine, creating a cloud of nicotine pyruvate vapor.

As pyruvic acid is a naturally occurring chemical that's part of the metabolism of every cell in the body, Rose says it does not add toxicity to nicotine. In this regard, the device is very unlike a cigarette, which delivers tars and a number of other cancer-causing substances along with nicotine.

But would smokers use it? In the device's first test, Rose and colleagues tried it on nine healthy smokers who had refrained from smoking overnight.

Each smoker took 10 puffs on the new device, 10 puffs on a Nicotrol/Nicorette inhaler, and 10 puffs of room air. Before and after each set of 10 puffs, the researchers measured the amount of nicotine in the smokers' blood and determined their smoking withdrawal symptoms.

The Nicotrol/Nicorette inhaler did raise smokers' nicotine levels. But it does not deliver nicotine deep into the lungs. Consequently, smokers did not get as much nicotine from this FDA-approved device as they did from equal amounts of nicotine in the new inhaler.

Moreover, the smokers said that puffing on the new device was less harsh and irritating than puffing on the Nicotrol/Nicorette inhaler.

"We are trying to give smokers the whole package they really are addicted to by trying to recreate that in a way we hope is far less harmful," Rose says. "We think most problems in cigarettes -- carcinogens and so forth -- come from things in smoke other than nicotine. We avoid them by giving nicotine without all those problems."

Rose says that although the device would be used to help people quit smoking entirely, it might also help people who are not ready to quit -- such as people self-medicating with nicotine for depression or schizophrenia.

If more stringent tests of the device's safety go well, Rose says the device would be commercially available in three to five years. Duke University has filed patents on the product.

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