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By Erin Atack

A new cigarette replacement in the form of a hand gel recently hit U.S. markets and is expected to arrive in the summer, though experts say it may encourage smokers to keep the habit.

Nicogel is a clear gel similar to an anti-bacterial product such as Purell but contains nicotine extracted from tobacco plants. One 0.8mL serving is rubbed into your hands either from a pump dispenser or from a single-serving packet similar to a wet nap.

In about 45 seconds, the product claims to put a tenth of the nicotine that’s in one cigarette into your bloodstream. Scott Welch, U.S. head of strategic marketing for Nicogel, explains that a tenth of the nicotine is all that’s necessary because the remaining content found in a cigarette gets burned and doesn’t get into your bloodstream when you smoke.

With the gel, one serving should subdue a smoker’s craving for up to four hours. “We don’t advertise it as a stop-smoking product,” Welch says. “It’s for use when you cannot smoke.”

He says Nicogel is useful for people who can’t smoke in airplanes, offices, movie theatres and restaurants. Welch says the product’s purpose is to satisfy the smoker, without bothering others or polluting the environment. Ryerson’s health experts agree that a smoke-free environment is ideal.

“As long as a person is using this product to help them quit smoking – which I hope the main use of this is going to be – then I think the elimination of second-hand smoke is a good thing,” says Melissa Matton, head of Health Promotions at Ryerson. However, health experts disagree with the product’s projected effectiveness.

“There are many reasons why this is unlikely to work,” says Rachel Tyndale, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto who also works at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“It seems remarkably unlikely that you’ll get significant levels (of nicotine) through a skin-delivery system.” Tyndale adds that satisfying a cigarette craving is not just about the nicotine fix. There are other effects that smoking has on the body.

“The smell of tobacco is a reinforcing effect, the passage of smoke through the airways is also a reinforcing effect.”

She also said that she is not aware of any controlled trials of Nicogel. Stephanie Barnhill, assistant pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart, suggests another need that the gel wouldn’t satisfy.

“The big thing with smoking is hand-to-mouth habit. A lot of times people just do it to keep themselves busy.” She recommends a nicotine gum like Nicorette because it gives smokers something to do with their mouths.

However, she won’t pass judgment on Nicogel until she sees trial results. Carol Hively, spokesperson for Walgreen Co. – an American drugstore chain carrying Nicogel – says it’s too soon to tell how the product is doing.

“It’s just arriving at stores now…some stores don’t have it on the shelf yet,” she said in an e-mail. “(But) we anticipate customer demand.” First-year graphic communications management student Daniel Ly is skeptical of Nicogel.

“It’s not reasonable or practical. Whenever you crave a smoke you’re going to rub your hands with some gel?” Over two million packets have been sold so far in 30 countries, and Canada is about to become a part of that statistic.

Welch says Nicogel is in the process of getting approved by Health Canada and has “no doubt it’s going to pass.”

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