“It is hard to make money in the smoking cessation business,” said Patrick Reynolds, grandson of R.J., on the phone to Matt Bucklin. Making money in most businesses is difficult, but one where the average consumer success rate is less than 10%, has a unique set of challenges. That is why The Quit Company, LLC, or “Quit Co.”, is focusing not on selling quit smoking aids, but teaching smokers about their behavioral dependency to cigarettes, then selling products to help replace that habit.
A recently study published in JAMA Oncology concluded that a substantial portion of cancer cases could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. This includes limiting alcohol intake, moderate exercise, a normal range BMI, and not smoking. The types of cancer studied were lung, colon, pancreas, bladder, prostate, and breast, and the risk factors of lifestyle ranged from 12% to 82%. These data show the significance of lifestyle modification in preventing cancer, which is something the medical field does not often address, but where Quit Co. has found a niche.
Quit Co. is not an herbal tea business, even though it was originally Quit Tea LLC. It is not even a smoking cessation business. Quit Co. is a behavioral science company that educates consumers then sells products to help create healthier habits. “It is easier to replace a habit than it is to break one” according to founder Matt Bucklin, who started the company in 2010, with the simple idea there are herbs that can temporarily support willpower to help smokers quit, and a herbal tea would make an ideal replacement habit.
The market for smoking cessation products is currently dominated by nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), with success rates comparable to quitting cold turkey. The reason NRT is generally unhelpful is that it does nothing to address the habit of smoking cigarettes. Most people smoke at the same times every day, in response to the same triggers, and are only moderately addicted to nicotine. Withdrawal lasts a few days to a few weeks, but most go back to their old habit months later when their cravings have nothing to do with a physical addiction to the nicotine.
A recent study at Johns Hopkins showed how the behavioral dependency is enforced. A habit is formed from the repetition of stimuli that triggers an action, which is followed by a positive outcome. Dopamine, the pleasure hormone, is then released throughout the Ventral tegmental area of the brain. Neuroscientists can now show that once a habit if formed, the brain preemptively floods with dopamine in response the stimuli, making it almost impossible to think about anything else.
Counseling has been shown to have the high success rates. A smoking cessation professional teaches patients to recognize why they smoke, their triggers, and rewards for smoking, and find an alternative that works for them. Unfortunately, good counselors have a limit to the number of patients they can see in the day. As a business model, counseling also has a revenue limit, which is not true for a product where manufacturing can be easily scaled up and shipped globally.
“Treatment of nicotine addiction requires appropriate treatment of the behavioral manifestations to be totally successful,” according to Dr. Clyde McCoy, PhD. at University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. The behavioral dependency lasts a lifetime because habits are engrained deep in the basal ganglia part of the brain, and can't be erased, but they can be replaced! That is why Quit Co. has focused their advertising on educating potential customers on what they coined the “Substitution Strategy for Quitting Smoking,” helping them to figure out their own triggers, rewards, and finding a replacement.
The idea of a habit replacement for smoking is not new, in fact, most people that quit cold turkey probably do it inadvertently. The dreaded post-quitting weight gain is due to a substitution of cigarettes for high-calorie snacks. While it may work temporarily, this is not sustainable, and cannot satisfy existing triggers and rewards for a new healthy habit. Herbal tea can potentially satisfy those conditions, but acceptance of this new method will take time. Fortunately, everyone is familiar with tea, and most potential customers have tried to quit smoking multiple times, so they open to trying something new.
In early 2015, 83 smokers tested two Quit Co. products together, Quit Tea and Quit Support, for one month. In weekly surveys, 72% reported finding the products helpful, and 1 in 3 were able to completely refrain from smoking. These results were better than anticipated but are inline with generally positive feedback. Quit Co. sales have been steadily increasing 60% annually for the past 5 years. Quit Tea and Quit Support are distributed by Select Nutrition, and Quit Tea is carried in major retailers such as Whole Foods Market, as well as distributed internationally in Western Europe and China.
Trends in health and healthcare are favorable for new ideas in smoking cessation, and the market potential is huge. In the US, there are over 40 million smokers; the smoking cessation market is over $1 billion, with 38% of adults willing to use Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Globally there are 1 billion smokers and $4 billion spent annually. Much of the spending is done by government agencies, insurance companies, and corporate wellness programs, which are all potential distribution channels and partners.
Products for habit substitution are not limited to smoking, which is why Quit Co. considers itself a behavioral science company. Smoking is a massive public health challenge that must be solved, and if Quit Co. can successfully address the destructive habit of smoking cigarettes, it can apply the same principles to create products that help with other bad habits.
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