Free nicotine patch with purchase of cigarettes: Plausible?
January 22, 2012 5:55 PM   Subscribe

What legal barriers would there be to requiring that every pack of cigarettes come with a nicotine patch? Would this even be good policy?

Could it be a state-level regulation or would it have to be federal?

(I'm thinking it would provide smokers who even sort-of wish to quit with an easy opportunity to try a quitting aid. Cigarette manufacturers would bear extra expense in procuring the patches and redesigning their packaging to accommodate them, but cigarettes are already pretty highly taxed so the idea of burdening them a little more doesn't seem like a political no-go. And it would reinforce the message that smoking is a bad habit, much like the proposal to put graphic images of smoking-related tissue damage right on the packages. Maybe the risk of children getting hold of discarded patches is a big issue?)
posted by lakeroon to Law & Government (16 answers total)
The first thing I'd wonder about would be the advisability of packaging stuff in a way that seems to actively encourage overdose. (My non-smoker's understanding is that you're really not supposed to smoke with a patch on.) Seems like an instant lawsuit to me.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

Sounds like it could create issues where a nicotine overdose could occur, if someone is smoking while wearing the patch. Also, there are different levels of nicotine patch, which one would they put in the pack? So, to answer the question in the post title, I am going to say not plausible.
posted by kellyblah at 6:02 PM on January 22, 2012

1) Nicotine patches come in different doses depending on how many cigarettes a day the user smokes - you couldn't distribute a single one-size-fits-all patch.

2) The success rate of quitting smoking by just using the patches without any other kind of support is incredibly low.

3) Patches cost a fair amount of money, and you would be producing a huge number of them only to have them go unused, effectively wasting the money. It's hard to believe that most other forms of public health intervention to encourage people to stop smoking wouldn't be more cost effective.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nicotine patches aren't effective at getting people to quit smoking, so I don't think it would be a good policy.

Everyone, especially children, already know that smoking is a bad habit. There isn't really a need for more legislation promoting this message. There are many reasons why some people continue to smoke even with the high taxes (which many of them can't afford), and there isn't much the government can do about that.
posted by lali at 6:07 PM on January 22, 2012

posted by lali at 6:08 PM on January 22, 2012

Yeah, nicotine patches come in dosages tailored to how many cigarettes a person smokes daily. Taking the wrong dosage means you'll either get no effect or you'll get too much nicotine and get all sorts of unfortunate effects. Plus, a single day of a nicotine patch won't do anything for even the lightest smokers.

You're also not supposed to smoke while on the patch due to to nicotine blood levels. It's not going to kill you, but distributing them with cigarettes would encourage people to wear them while smoking.
posted by griphus at 6:08 PM on January 22, 2012

Okay, I take back the "it's not going to kill you." I am not anything resembling a health professional.
posted by griphus at 6:10 PM on January 22, 2012

A friend of mine who is a longtime casual smoker regularly uses nicotine patches to supplement his smoking at times when it's not convenient to smoke, for example at his desk at work. He and others like him would welcome such a combination product not because it would help him quit smoking, but because it would make it cheaper for him to remain addicted to nicotine. My guess is that such a combination product might encourage active smokers to increase their nicotine ingestion, rather than quitting smoking, because it would be easy and free to supplement smoking with additional nicotine. So in addition to all of the very good reasons listed above, I'd bet that your plan would, at least for some people, backfire and result in higher consumption.
posted by decathecting at 6:21 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Besides all the other reasons mentioned, there's the fact that nicotine replacement therapy products like patches are overseen by the FDA, while it's the ATF who's responsible for cigarettes. Coordinating between two different federal agencies with different agendas? Not likely.
posted by neroli at 6:22 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

(I am talking about the US, of course. Don't know the situation elsewhere,)
posted by neroli at 6:24 PM on January 22, 2012

As someone who gave up ciggies with the help of patches, I disagree with a few elements of a few prior answers (eg: of course you can smoke while on patches. If that were a serious problem no-one would survive patches).

That said: I don't think this would be good policy. The important nicotine patch is probably the third one, or the second one, not the first. Anyone that this approach aided would still have to get up one day and go to the shop to buy patches, not ciggies. If they've got that motivation, I reckon they'd've had it without a freebie patch.

Maybe some discount system could help? Bring in the lids of a dozen packs of ciggies and get a free pack of patches (or gum, or lozenges or whatever...)?
posted by pompomtom at 6:29 PM on January 22, 2012

I want to say that the feds (only the feds) could do it in the U.S.

Probably not a safe or effective policy, though.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:01 PM on January 22, 2012

As to the law, it would be technically trivially easy to mandate via an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia.

As to the policy, no I don't think it would be a good idea.
posted by wilful at 8:27 PM on January 22, 2012

One patch will only last you one day. And that first day is the worst day. Seriously - the WORST.

A smoker needs at least three days of patches in order to make it through the roughest part. And at least two weeks - ideally four - of stepped-down dosages in order to make it through the entire cycle.

A better - and possibly more feasible - idea would be to include a coupon in each pack of smokes. Make it so that you can exchange N coupons for an entire month's worth of patches.

(I have long contended that if we really wanted to help people quit smoking, we would just make nicotine patches covered by most health care plans. Or given away free under controlled circumstances, like methadone clinics.)
posted by ErikaB at 9:34 PM on January 22, 2012

Could it be a state-level regulation or would it have to be federal?

Setting aside the question of whether this would be a good idea, the answer you are looking for is that -- in the U.S. -- the Federal government, and probably only the Federal government, could do this.
posted by gauche at 6:43 AM on January 23, 2012

Here in British Columbia the provincial government has a new scheme that provides free patches and other quitting aids to any resident who wants to quit. I'm on my first month's supply of patches (they provide up to 3 months) since last week and so far they're (mostly) working. I still smoke half a cigarette with my morning coffee and the other half with my pre-dinner drink but it's a big improvement from a pack a day.
It's undoubtedly an expensive program but the rationale seems to be that addiction treatment now will preclude future health care costs.
posted by islander at 4:55 PM on January 24, 2012

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