OBJECTIVE: To estimate the impact of allowing non-prescription sales of nicotine medications in the United States on increasing the numbers of smokers quitting. DESIGN: Sales and marketing data were used to compare the use of nicotine medications before and after non-prescription sales, and to estimate the impact of non-prescription sales on quit rates. SETTING: United States. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Number of quit attempts using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, number of smokers who quit smoking with over-the-counter (OTC) NRT or with NRT still sold by prescription, and incremental quits attributable to OTC NRT. RESULTS: Since the US Food and Drug Administration approved nicotine medications for OTC sale in 1996, use of the medications has increased by 152% compared with prior prescription use. With increased use of an efficacious treatment, OTC nicotine medications are estimated to yield from 114,000-304,000 new former smokers annually in the United States. CONCLUSIONS: The broader availability and promotion of effective treatments for tobacco dependence, specifically nicotine gum and patch, increase the number of smokers availing themselves of the medications. This increased use is estimated to contribute substantially to the number of former smokers in the United States.
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