Sweetened Addiction

While tobacco use is way down in the US, a recent proliferation of nicotine-based products is delivering tobacco's addictive impact in new ways.

Perhaps most insidious are candy-like concoctions laced with nicotine, or compacted from powdered tobacco. Nicotine lollipops are being prepared and sold by various independent druggists around the country as a "medicine" for kicking the smoking habit. Of course, the pops are addictive, too, so users trade one habit, cigarettes, for another.

Some sellers say they provide the products only to adults with prescriptions. But at least one maker markets the pops indiscriminately over the Internet. Another product that looks like mint lozenges is being test-marketed in several states. It's pitched as a non-offensive option for smokers who are often kept from lighting up by no-smoking rules. Critics wonder whether the convenience of this smokeless option will simply prolong the cigarette habit for many people who might otherwise try to quit. And a major concern is that these more harmless-looking forms of the drug have an obvious appeal for children. There are also nicotine-spiked bottled waters and lip balms.

Two steps should be taken to constrict these new paths to the same old addiction: First, antismoking campaigns run privately or through state and local governments should include these products in their efforts to educate and warn the public, particularly youngsters.

Second, the Food and Drug Administration, which long has been prevented from examining traditional tobacco products by the political clout of the industry, should give a hard look at these new incarnations of an old drug. At present, they're being sold with no regulatory oversight.

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