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Stop-Smoking Product : CigArrest Marketers Give Glowing Sales Reports but FDA Is Wary of Success Claims

Times Staff Writer

Hypnotism didn’t do the trick. Neither did nicotine-laced chewing gum. Even two open-heart surgeries didn’t make Jackie Quast, 54, give up her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit.

Then, last Christmas, Quast’s daughter sent her a product called CigArrest, described as “a unique 7-day program to stop smoking.” The box contained a motivational cassette tape, a 32-page booklet, vitamins and 15 tablets containing a drug called lobeline sulfate.

Quast, a dietary manager at a nursing home in Vancouver, Wash., tried one more time--and failed. But she said CigArrest came closer to helping her abandon cigarettes than any of the other methods she has tried. She’s planning to give the product a second chance soon.

Targeting Chronic Smokers

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Quast is just the kind of chronic smoker being targeted by Advantage Entertainment Inc., a Costa Mesa firm that has the rights to market CigArrest at retail locations throughout the country. And Advantage believes that it has the right product at the right time to capitalize on increasing concern about the risks of smoking and mounting pressure to ban smoking at work sites and public places.

But CigArrest’s days as a stop-smoking product may be numbered. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not convinced that lobeline sulfate actually helps people break their smoking habit, and the agency eventually could ban the marketing of CigArrest and similar products for that purpose.

But CigArrest’s sponsors are betting that its market will continue to expand. They estimate that within the next 5 years, 80% of the nation’s 50 million smokers will try to break the habit.

Since 1985, CigArrest has been sold through television and direct mail pitches by More Direct Response, a Carlsbad company that makes the product. CigArrest’s low-budget television ads have been seen primarily by viewers of late-night wrestling, roller derbies and reruns of syndicated programs.

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The response was sufficient to cause sales of CigArrest to double each year, said John Bancroft, president and owner of More Direct Response. Last year, Bancroft said, the private firm’s CigArrest sales totaled $27 million.

A year ago, Bancroft licensed Advantage Entertainment to handle over-the-counter sales of CigArrest. The Costa Mesa firm also sells exercise videos and equipment.

Last week, Advantage Entertainment reported sales of $3.8 million for the first 9 months of its 1989 fiscal year, up from $811,577 during the same period a year earlier. The firm posted earnings of $361,166 for the period, which ended Jan. 31, compared to a loss of $244,087 the previous year. The company credited the gains primarily to sales of CigArrest.

Advantage Entertainment is displaying CigArrest at sales counters of such major retail chains as 7-Eleven, Sav-On Osco Drug Stores, Kroger and Albertson’s supermarkets, K mart, Longs Drug Stores and Eckerd Drug Stores. The CigArrest stop-smoking system contained in a small box retails for $19.95.

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Charles G. Sleichter III, president of Advantage Entertainment, said over-the-counter sales of CigArrest exceeded $5 million during the first 12 months of the store sales program.

K mart started displaying CigArrest in 100 of its stores in December “to catch New Year’s resolutions,” said Frank Marciniak, a K mart buyer in Troy, Mich. Initial sales were so strong, he added, that distribution of the product was expanded to 1,000 of the chain’s 2,100 stores.

Also pleased by initial customer reaction is Southland Corp., which sells CigArrest in most of its 7,000 7-Eleven stores in the United States and Canada, according to Southland spokesman Don Cowan.

Sleichter said that $12 million will be spent this year to market the product. That includes $10 million by More Direct Response for television spots and $2 million by Advantage Entertainment for advertisements on radio and in national publications such as TV Guide, USA Today, Readers Digest and Cosmopolitan.

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In January, Advantage Entertainment raised $620,000 by selling stock to the public. The funds were used to help launch the print and radio advertising campaign. CigArrest’s stock, which is traded on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, is not listed in daily over-the-counter trading reports. The stock recently traded for about $1.25 a share.

Product’s Future Uncertain

Despite CigArrest’s sales surge, the product faces an uncertain future as an advertised smoking deterrent.

The active ingredient in CigArrest, lobeline sulfate, has been marketed since the 1950s as a stop-smoking aid under the brand name Bantron. Dep Corp., a Los Angeles County firm that manufactures Bantron, does not advertise the product.

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In its marketing literature, Advantage Entertainment says lobeline sulfate is derived from the native American plant known as Indian tobacco and is “a powerful, non-prescription, non-addictive aid to help break the cigarette habit.” The company says the substance is “reported to be one of the most successful non-prescription drugs in treating nicotine addiction.”

But the FDA contends that the results of a number of clinical tests of the drug so far have failed to demonstrate to the agency’s satisfaction that lobeline sulfate is useful in helping people stop smoking.

FDA spokesman Bill Grigg said the agency expects to publish a list of drugs that it considers safe and effective as smoking-cessation products within a year. If the FDA does not receive more convincing data about the effectiveness of loeline sulfate, he said, the manufacturers of CigArrest, Bantron and any other stop-smoking products containing lobeline sulfate will have a year after publication of the list to remove unauthorized products from the market.

So far, Grigg said, the only product that the FDA has found to be effective in helping people break the cigarette habit is Nicorette, a nicotine chewing gum that must be prescribed by a physician. Manufactured by a unit of Dow Chemical Co., Nicorette is by far the leading smoking cessation product, generating $81 million in sales in 1988, up 37% from 1987.

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In response to the FDA’s reservations, Sleichter said he has confidence in the effectiveness of the CigArrest “system.” He said the cassette tape and pamphlet are designed to help break a smoker’s psychological addiction, while lobeline sulfate helps relieve the physical craving for nicotine.

Bancroft, the CigArrest manufacturer, said a controlled clinical study of the system’s effectiveness is under way. He said he doesn’t expect any meaningful results from the study until sometime next fall. But he said he has received thousands of testimonial letters from satisfied customers.

Lobeline sulfate “is probably not going to hurt people, but it is not a proven therapeutic aid,” said Jack Henningfield, a nicotine expert and researcher for the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore. “I think it is roughly in the category of carrots and knitting” as stop-smoking aids, he said.

Dr. Terry Pechacek, acting chief of the Smoking Tobacco and Cancer branch of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, said lobeline sulfate probably has a “placebo effect,” meaning that people who take it may succeed more often in breaking the cigarette habit than those who don’t simply because they believe the drug works.

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“If it helps someone to quit, it is worthwhile,” Pechacek said.

But Dr. David P. L. Sachs, director of the Smoking Cessation Research Institute in Palo Alto, said it would be preferable for smokers who want to quit to try a system with a better track record. “You don’t like putting someone through a cessation treatment you know has a low probability of being effective,” he said.

Apparently undaunted, Advantage Entertainment is forging ahead. It has come out with a new packaging design for its line of CigArrest products. And it will soon introduce a chewing gum containing lobeline sulfate to compete more directly with Nicorette.

Unlike the CigArrest system, the gum will not be marketed as a stop-smoking product, Sleichter said. Rather, he said, the gum will be marketed as a smoking alternative for people who want to cut back, who are temporarily in a no-smoking situation or who have quit smoking but feel tempted to start again.

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He said that even if the FDA ultimately prohibits the advertising of CigArrest as a smoking cessation product, the gum could continue to be sold as a cigarette substitute. He said test marketing of the gum is scheduled to begin next month.


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