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Pushing the panic button.

PUSHING THE PANIC BUTTON

When a hunter pursuing hisprey examines a fresh spore, he can learn many things--such as how many animals, what kind, lead time, direction, and the animals' relative health. While visiting New York City recently, I was involuntarily transported into a hunter's mind-set. I began seeing something on the street that could not have affected me more if it had been blood. Time and time again, I saw in the gutters and on the subway platforms--Nicorette wrappers. They are unmistakable in appearance.

The drug Nicorette is expensive,and it requires a prescription to obtain. People are chewing Nicorettes like candy, though. Friends share them illegally. They are blatantly passed around at parties and after meals. People who feel the need to use Nicorettes confess that without them, they would suffer withdrawal.

Is this another case of prescriptiondrug abuse, similar to, say, Valium? Mercifully, no. Nicorettes are prescribed to lessen the withdrawal symptoms caused when people stop smoking. What caught my hunter's eye in New York--the sheer numbers of Nicorette wrappers--speaks volumes about our modern American society. The message was so primitive and so clear: the animals that had left these spores were wounded. If I were tracking them I would have used the utmost caution. Unlike the dying wounded, these animals' spores showed the most feared characteristic of an adversary--the will to live!

Who are these people? Why wouldthey go out of their way to quit something so pleasurable and easy for them to do? After all, you can't see or feel cigarettes killing you. Who gave them so much foresight? Are they poets? Did they conjure up motivating visions of seeing their own grandchildren some day?

It had to be something. Visiting adoctor and a pharmacy to be allowed to chew a mildly disagreeable gum is no picnic. Worse, the packaging is diabolically poor in design. The gum is individually wrapped in hard-to-open containers. (I am told that each Nicorette contains the nicotine equivalent of two cigarettes. The extra dose is to counteract the frustration of opening the wrapper.) Besides being hard to open, the corners of the plastic wrapper are so pointed I'm sure they could score glass. A hand hastily thrust into a pocket full of these delights is sure to draw blood or poke a hole in the pocket. God forbid an addict loses his nicotine fix, because, unlike tobacco, Nicorette cannot be replaced on the spot or in small quantities.

Chewing gum of any sort is not acharming habit. If you want to get ahead in our society, it is not a habit you will want to cultivate (e.g., never under any circumstances chew gum during interviews). It is a terrible ritual. It makes you look ugly, and the gum ends up on the sidewalks. Many hotels won't even sell it because it damages their carpets so. But unlike regular gum that ruins furnishings, teeth, and reputations, Nicorette, discreetly chewed, is a great way to stop smoking.

Obviously, I have enormous respectfor people who go this route. I have even greater respect for, optimism about, and faith in a citizenry that learns from its mistakes and strives to be healty. Saying no to drugs-- great idea. Buckle up and live-- wonderful. Get drunk drivers off the road--couldn't agree more. But cigarettes are the worst. Just the coughing they cause likely has some measurable adverse effect on our GNP. Closer to home, the cancer, emphysema, and heart problems cigarettes cause will allow millions of families to answer questions like: Do we sacrifice everything we own to pay for special treatment for mom? One year more of dad or four years of college for junior? Should we sell the house and move into a trailer park near the hospital? No, this is not very nice, and we know it.

Well, recently we almost banned allcigarette advertising in America. Congress voted it down. The problem is that a lot of magazines and newspapers would go broke without the cigarette advertising revenue. The Saturday Evening Post gave up cigarette advertising in 1983, but it was not easy. A ban on cigarette advertising would most definitely cause a shakeout in publishing that would affect many jobs. Although the Post believes in "letting the chips fall where they may,' Congress evidently thought a financially strong press was more important.

If Congress is right, the press hadbetter do something healthful to make up for the tainted money it accepts for cigarette pushing. In essence, Washington has said to the print media, "We let many of you live, so do something! Specifically, suggest a solution to Congress that doesn't interfere with interstate commerce, First Amendment rights, or tobacco farmers, and above all, make it easy to understand, medically, effective, and politically expedient.'

Solution: If Congress can legislatewarnings on all cigarette packages, it can also force the tobacco companies to put one piece of Nicorette gum in each pack of cigarettes. Let the seed of salvation be contained in each pack. Let each handful of change brought forth from a smoker's pocket contain a Nicorette. Let all smokers see them lying on their dressers as they start a new day. Let the desk drawers of smokers overflow with unused Nicorettes until they can stand it no more. Above all, let the tobacco companies use their considerable talents to redesign the Nicorette wrapper.

Tobacco companies were America'smost profitable industry last year. We the people allow this. Let's sick 'em with cig-gum.

Photo: Congress, please note: This panic button made ofnicotine-containing gum could save lives and dollars.
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Title Annotation:Nicorette prescription drug
Author:SerVaas, Paul
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1987
Words:925
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