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Under Your Skin

September 17, 2009
by Kristine Breese
graph Image source: California Department of Health Services, Tobacco Control Section, March 2006

IMPACT: Smoking researchers Jarvik and Rose (then a post doctorate fellow at UCLA) were curious about “green tobacco illness,” a malady that was striking farmhands in the South who harvested tobacco. That led to research on the potential positive implications of absorbing tobacco through the skin, which in turn led the scientists to create the now-ubiquitous transdermal patch that delivers nicotine directly into the body. The patch was first available in the U.S. by prescription in 1992. Four years later, it was approved for over-the-counter sale. Smoking, which kills more than 400,000 Americans a year and tallies almost $100 billion in health-care and lost-productivity costs annually, now had a serious new enemy. California’s innovative anti-smoking public health initiatives helped reduce smoking by 32.5 percent since 1988. And research shows that tools such as the patch can double smokers’ chances of quitting successfully. Jarvik, now 83 and retired, posits that California was a likely place from which this invention would spring, “because people here walk around with so much skin exposed.”

EUREKA MOMENT: When the two intrepid doctors could not get approval to run experiments on any subjects, they decided to test their idea on themselves. “We put the tobacco on our skin and waited to see what would happen,” Jarvik recalls. “Our heart rates increased, adrenaline began pumping, all the things that happen to smokers.”

From the January February 2007 25 Brilliant California Ideas issue of California.

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