Westchester takes aim at nicotine-laced water


(Original publication: December 24, 2003)

WHITE PLAINS Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano poured a bit of bottled water into a paper cup yesterday and sipped as reporters waited for his reaction.

"That's terrible," Spano said during a morning news conference. "Why anyone would drink it, I don't know."

Westchester County's war on tobacco had a new target yesterday, albeit a smokeless one. It was NICOWater, bottled water laced with 4 milligrams of nicotine, about the amount in two cigarettes.

Spano said the water was no safer than smoking a cigarette and could be especially appealing to young people. He said the county would look into whether it could ban its sale to minors.

The water is labeled by its manufacturer as a homeopathic product and says proof of age is required to purchase it. But Spano said there was no requirement that a salesclerk ask for such proof.

"This is baloney," he said. "There's no law that forces anybody to do that. It's just a way of, I think, covering their butt."

The water is made by a company called QT 5 Inc., based in California. The company's Web site says the water is designed to relieve tobacco cravings, particularly in light of the growing number of states that restrict smoking indoors.

"Now, a smoker can simply sip a 16.9 fl. oz. bottle of NICOWater and relieve those symptoms, whether trapped on an airplane, working on the 30th floor or at home with the family," the Web site says.

A phone message left with the company's offices in Westlake Village, Calif., was not returned.

The water, which tastes as if a cigarette had been soaked in it, is sold locally at Rite Aid stores.

Elaine Price, the director of Westchester's Consumer Protection Department, said the county has asked the drugstore chain to voluntarily stop selling the water. The company said it was considering the request, Price said.

Jody Cook, a spokeswoman for Rite Aid, said she was unaware of such a request from Westchester and the company had no plans to remove the water from its shelves, although it would continue to take feedback from customers.

She said the chain's computer system was programmed to prompt cashiers to ask for proof of age when selling the product.

Spano said perhaps stores would want to pull the product to avoid any negative publicity.

After drinking the NICOWater, Spano, who said he has not smoked cigarettes since 1979, said he felt a sensation in his mouth and throat as if he had.

"If I remember correctly," he said.

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