Minors able to buy nicotine replacement therapy products

02/26/04

CHICAGO Although over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy products like gum and patches have labeling indicating that they are not for sale to minors, these products were successfully purchased by a minor in more than 80 percent of purchase attempts, according to an article in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to the article, an estimated 28.5 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes and more than half try to quit each year. Public health guidelines recommend that health care providers counsel adolescents to stop smoking, and to try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT, including gum, patches, etc.) to help in smoking cessation. Many NRT products are sold over-the-counter, but the labeling on these items indicates that they should not be sold to anyone under 18 years.

Karen C. Johnson, M.D., M.P.H., from The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, and colleagues investigated the ability of a minor to purchase over the counter NRT products.

The researchers identified 165 stores (retail, drug stores and grocery stores) in Memphis that sold over the counter NRT products. A 15-year-old girl visited the stores and attempted to buy NRT. She was instructed not to lie about her age, and carried no identification indicating her age. The minor was accompanied by an adult supervisor who entered the stores separately to observe the purchase attempts. The supervisor had no direct contact with the minor or the sales clerks.

In 81 percent of purchase attempts, the minor was able to purchase NRT. She was not questioned about her age in 79 percent of purchase attempts. The researchers also found that if the clerk asked the girl's age, she was much less likely to be allowed to buy NRT.

"Our study demonstrates that most purchases of NRT were obtained by a minor buyer without proof of age, despite warnings printed on the product," the authors write. "Given these findings, we conclude that the FDA-approved product labeling has little effect on actual sales practice. However, health practitioners recommending NRT to adolescent smokers attempting to quit should consider potential barriers to youth access."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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