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Now you can buy smokes and nrt’s at the same store

Will wonders never cease?! Probably not, come to think of it, at least not in the world of tobacco regulation. Apparently not satisfied with selling the smoking-cessation-product-that-you're-not-allowed-to-call-a-smoking-cessation-product (its e-cig, Vuse), cancer-stick-purveyor RJ Reynolds will be marketing a nicotine gum as a nicotine-replacement-therapy (NRT), and with the blessings of the Food and Drug Administration. Nicotine addicts will now be able to buy either poison or its antidote – now in 2 varieties – from the same benevolent conglomerate.

Reynolds has been test-marketing its gum, Zonnic, in Iowa and Nebraska, and will now introduce the product nationally, challenging the NRT market leader, GlaxoSmithKline (which sells no toxic products), and its product, Nicorette.

NRT products are subsidized at the state and federal levels, which makes vaping advocate Gregory Conley wonder about the propriety of allowing a purveyor of certified poisons to enter the market with a lower-priced anti-poison. “If Reynolds can offer state health departments and quitlines its Zonnic products at a lower price than GlaxoSmithKline can with Nicorette, legislators may start inquiring about why these corporate handouts are continuing," commented Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, and a legal consultant in the field of harm reduction through vaping.

Since the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products is funded by "tobacco user fees" – penalties paid by Big Tobacco for the right to sell poison – the relationship between tobacco companies and the agency that regulates them amounts to a link between a funding source and its beneficiary. This creates an oddly close relationship between them, despite their theoretical opposition to one another. So it is not particularly surprising that the Reynolds application for approval of Zonnic sailed through, while the vast majority of applications are delayed for years.

Indeed, many observers have noted that strict regulation of electronic cigarettes by the FDA could have the effect of handing the vaping supplies market over to Big Tobacco, since the high costs of submitting voluminous applications for "substantial equivalence" can be easily afforded by the deep pockets of cigarette firms, but will pose an onerous burden on independent vaping supplies manufacturers. If indeed Big Tobacco has a pipeline to quick approval, as illustrated by the easy success of the Reynolds application for Zonnic, then this apprehension comes even closer to being confirmed.

Euromonitor International, a firm that does industry research, predicts flat growth in the NRT market through 2017, for a variety of reasons. These include the growth of the electronic cigarette market, as a user-acknowledged smoking-cessation method, at the same time as the population of smokers wishing to quit actually shrinks. “The demand for traditional nicotine-replacement therapy products faced some downward pressure... a prospect that will only deteriorate further as the consumer base for e-cigarettes increases, [in addition to the fact that] the decreasing population of smokers has helped to put a cap on the growth prospects for nicotine-replacement therapy smoking cessation aids,” says the firm.

The entry of a new product into a shrinking market is worthy of note. Will Big Tobacco's entry into the NRT market be able to take over the field, just as their entry into e-cigarettes two years ago quickly vaulted them into a dominant market position? Much depends on the response of smokers who want to quit. Some think smokers are decreasingly susceptible to Big Tobacco's blandishments.