Vol. 6, Issue 7, May 13, 2008
Education for the Otiose
Perplexing Times

GlaxoSmithKline Patch Approved for ChapStick Addiction

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the transdermal petrolatum patch developed by GlaxoSmithKline, paving the way for the first prescription product designed to combat ChapStick addiction to reach pharmacies by the end of the summer.

"GlaxoSmithKline is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer," said VP of Product Development Sherry Appleton. "We feel that the petrolatum patch represents a major step forward in helping people cope with this debilitating addiction."

ChapStick was invented in the 1870s by Dr. Charles Browne Fleet, a physician and budding pharmacological businessman from Lynchburg, Virginia. Originally intended as a remedy for excessive cursing, the lip balm gained widespread popularity after fellow Lynchburg resident John Morton purchased the distribution rights and began promoting ChapStick's alleged qualities as a protective antidote against contaminated foods. In World War I, the U.S. Army distributed ChapStick to American soldiers to help offset the effects of army food. Many military historians feel that this was one of the factors helping American soldiers survive in the unwholesome environment of the trenches, but the program had an unanticipated side effect.

"All these American soldiers, all these doughboys who had put their lives on the line, gone to hell and back - they didn't leave the ChapStick on the battlefield when they returned," said Bernard Stancke, a pharmacologist at the University of Pennsylvania. "They couldn't. Like the Army's liberal use of morphine when it was discovered during the Civil War, the ChapStick program led to the unintentional addiction of millions."

The problem went largely unheeded until the 1960s, when new varieties of ChapStick marketed to women and children made the addictive effects of the seemingly innocuous lip balm more evident. Although the A. P. Robins company denied it for years, eventually the preponderance of evidence led to the F.D.A. classifying ChapStick as an "inherently addictive product" and restricting its sale to minors in 1977.

"Those in the pernicious grip of this camphor-scented stick have no choice but to apply it continually in a mindless ritual," said Stancke. "And it doesn't even look cool, like smoking, so it's sort of a lose-lose situation for those who unwittingly pick up that first little stick."

Numerous self-help organizations exist to help people break the ChapStick habit, most notably Dry Lips Anonymous (DLA). But as even the leaders of DLA acknowledge, it's extremely difficult to stop using ChapStick once you start.

"You'd be surprised by the depths people will sink to when facing the agony of withdrawal," said Betty Parsons, DLA Regional President. "They'll rub anything on their lips - cheese sticks, crayons, even cigarettes if they're really desperate. We're very excited about the patch finally reaching the market."

Some have raised questions about the practicality of the patch, which is designed to be worn over both lips, or its projected cost of $150 each.

"We understand that some users might have problems with such activities as 'eating' or 'speaking'," said Appleton. "But you have to take the alternative into consideration. This is a very serious condition, and we think the treatment, however imperfect, will be welcomed by everyone from John Doe to Suzy Chapstick."


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