Over-the-counter (OTC) nicotine gum and nicotine patches will no longer be required to carry a warning label even though they do contain some small amount of potentially addictive nicotine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the announcement yesterday, but their statement doesn’t seem to be an April Fools’ joke but rather a deadly serious attempt to help people quit smoking.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in a prepared statement: “The agency heard from several public health groups that the labeling for OTC NRT products may stop consumers who are trying to quit smoking from using them.”
In the past, the nicotine replacement products (NRTs) like nicotine gum and patches were required to carry a warning label that you had to stop using the NRT if you started smoking. The FDA said that new research showed that it’s safe to keep using the products, even if you break down and cheat once in awhile.
Furthermore, they said that “decades of research” prove that using OTC nicotine gums and patches doesn’t create a significant risk of abuse or addiction.
In other words, if smokers are frightened off by the warning labels because of a small to nonexistent risk, they could keep on with an activity that has a huge known risk — cigarette smoking. I can certainly see their point, since it’s almost a full-time job these days keeping track of all of the problems attributed to smoking.
For example, we reported in early March on a study that linked a grandmother’s smoking to the grandchild’s asthma, even if the mother in between didn’t smoke. Heck, even so-called third-hand smoke — that sticky hard-to-clean residue that gets left behind in vehicles, houses, and offices — can raise your health risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that smoking and other tobacco use kills about five million people a year. Over 440,000 people a year die in the United States alone from the effects of smoking. Furthermore, they estimate that for every person who dies from a smoking-related illness, 20 more are living with the serious effects of a smoking-related disease.
Weighing the very real harm caused by smoking versus a small unproven risk that might (or might not) be caused by the OTC nicotine gums and patches, the FDA has apparently decided that it’s an easy decision.
The warning labels on nicotine gum and patches will be getting a lot less scary.
[cigarette warning label photo courtesy Tinou Bau via flickr and Wikipedia Commons]