GlaxoSmithKline is Losing Nicotine Patch and Gum Sales to the E-Cig Market

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GlaxoSmithKline-Drug-Closer-to-European-ApprovalSales of many smoking cessation products appear to have been on the decline since electronic cigarettes joined the market at large. Some studies and many consumers suggest that electronic cigarettes work better than “approved” methods of cessation (even though they can’t be marketed as such). Even for those smokers that don’t quit, e-cig use appears to regularly help them reduce their total smoking by half or more.

Meanwhile, many smokers have become pretty jaded about approved quitting methods. Studies show only a thin improvement in quit rate between cold turkey (9%) and products like nicotine gums, lozenges, patches, and various drugs (often 10-12% at best). However, more recent research suggests that smokers that quit almost always (99% of the time) return to smoking eventually. So these 10-12% quit rates only really apply at the 1 year mark. Beyond that, real success rate is far lower. Even quitting cold turkey has this problem.

This has led a lot of smokers to give up on giving up smoking. A great many are simply tired of spending hundreds or even thousands on all the various ways someone might manage to quit with little to no success. E-cigs sit in a wonderful limbo between quitting and smoking which allows smokers to replace the act with 99% less harm and without requiring a user to give up any of the accompanying habits or rituals. This very fact meant that by July of 2013, 25% of all smoking quit attempts in the UK were done with e-cigs. That percent is likely to be much higher now.

gumAccording to a report from Reuters, GlaxoSmithKline (the pharmaceutical giant behind a number of smoking cessation products including Nicorette, NicoDerm, and Zyban) has been suffering significant drops in their cessation product sales. The the report doesn’t say by how much, but it is enough that the company felt the need to comment on the changing market and why they aren’t attempting to get in on the booming e-cig industry. While that might appear to be a good idea for them, they seem content to view the industry as too controversial. In fact, they’ve been lobbying against the industry for some time now.

According to its chief executive, GSK considered getting into the industry for “a few days” but decided there wasn’t enough evidence of risk and benefit yet to “play” (as he put it). It’s possible they want the industry to sound like an illegitimate participant in an otherwise legitimate market. If GSK was really interested, they’d do the studies necessary themselves. However, it seems likely that they don’t want to participate in a market unless it is so hosed with regulation that only a small number of ultra-large companies can compete (a la the pharmaceutical industry at large).

It’s possible this statement from GSK was a necessary one to respond to investors asking why the company is passing on an industry that has been doubling in size annually for more than 5 years now. While they can’t be expected to be involved in everything, they should have a pretty good reason why they’re letting their cessation sales plummet.

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