Nicotine patches fail to provide a miracle cure

Smoking/ quitters disillusioned
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NICOTINE patches, one of the most successful product launches in marketing history, have failed to live up to expectations of smokers who want to quit, with an almost 60 per cent slump in sales in less than three years.

Manufacturers are urgently rethinking their sales strategy to win new customers among 14 million smokers in Britain, and recapture the disillusioned for whom the patches failed.

The patches, which are worn on the arm or trunk and slowly release nicotine into the blood stream, also face fierce competition from the newest nicotine substitute, a nicotine nasal spray. This is available only on prescription, but is likely to be sold from pharmacies within months. In addition, Nicorette, a nicotine chewing gum which has been available since the early 1980s, is maintaining its market position.

By contrast, the nicotine patch market, worth around pounds 45m in its first year of launch in 1992-1993, fell to pounds 27.3m in the following year and is still declining, likely to bring in around pounds 20m by the end of 1995, according to industry sources.

Mike Dallman, group brand manager for Nicotinell patches made by Zyma, the patch brand leader with a 59 per cent share of the market, admitted that "creative thinking in the patch market" was now vital.

"Although it was falsely inflated initially, there is some disappointment because we did not think that the market would be declining in year three," he said yesterday. "We expected some stabilisation after the success of the launch."

Nicotine patches were launched in November 1992 with unprecedented hype following the Government's surprise decision to approve them for over- the-counter (OTC) sale from pharmacies rather than prescription only.

A pounds 5.5m advertising campaign was supplemented by millions of pounds worth of free advertising in newspaper articles and on television. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund and several leading scientists backed the patches as a valuable aid to people who wanted to quit smoking.

By April 1993, nicotine patches were the biggest OTC product, displacing long-established and heavily promoted medicines. The appeal of the patches lay in their "medical" connotation, according to Mr Dallman. The only other well-known patch delivery system was for hormone replacement therapy.

Unfortunately, the consumers who put their faith in the patches found that willpower was still required. The "quit rate" after three months is now put at 30 per cent, falling to around 12 per cent after a year.

Dr Chris Steele, a GP in Manchester and specialist in smoking cessation, said: "People expected a miracle cure. What they didn't appreciate was they had to use the patches for three months and it is expensive. There isn't adequate follow-up or support to help them quit an addiction that is 10 times as powerful as heroin."