Friday, October 5, 2007

Nicotine Addiction in the U.K.

Study group urges harm reduction strategy for heavy smokers

Britain's Royal College of Physicians (RCP) called upon the government to treat cigarette smoking like any other drug addiction, and faulted its members for failing to offer sufficient help to heavy smokers trying to kick the habit.

Because of that failure, the Academy called for greater access to nicotine substitution products, and the development of safer and more effective nicotine delivery systems for smokers who cannot quit.

The Academy’s report, "Harm Reduction in Nicotine Addiction: Helping People Who Can’t Quit," called for a sweeping overhaul of the country’s nicotine marketing structure "so that harm reduction strategies are in place."

The report’s principle suggestion: "Change nicotine product regulation to make it easier to produce and market medicinal nicotine products."

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said the report highlighted the "stark fact" that cigarettes are freely available, while medicinal nicotine products are heavily regulated.

The report also calls for continued development of new forms of “user-friendly medicinal nicotine substitutes,” as well as relief from burdensome regulations that impede the marketing of new nicotine alternatives—chewing gums, nasal sprays, and patches.

“Smokers smoke because they are addicted to nicotine,” said Professor John Britton, chair of the Academy’s Tobacco Advisory group. “There are millions of smokers who can’t quit, or else are unlikely to quit, and those people need nicotine products that can satisfy their addiction without killing them.”

This methadone-style approach to nicotine addiction is sure to prove controversial. Will it save lives, or will it simply keep nicotine addicts from getting clean? Reuters reports that some British scientists are concerned that an emphasis on cigarette substitution products is at odds with a policy of helping people completely break their addiction to nicotine—which the Royal Academy maintains is still their primary focus.

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