PORTLAND (AP) – Rite Aid Corp. has pulled nicotine-laced bottled water products from the shelves of its Maine stores as legislators consider whether to ban the product in the state.

A Rite Aid spokeswoman said the company took bottles of NicoWater from the shelves in all 80 of its Maine stores Wednesday night.

The decision to pull the product came after the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-5 on a proposed bill to outlaw the product in Maine until it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The bill would need full Senate and House approval before becoming law.

Jody Cook, a spokeswoman for Rite Aid, said the company decided to stop selling the product in Maine because it wanted to be a good corporate citizen and listen to the concerns of Mainers. Rite Aid, based in Camp Hill, Penn., has 3,400 stores nationwide.

“We’re currently evaluating whether we will pull it from shelves across the chain,” Cook said.

State Sen. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, took aim at NicoWater last spring when he saw ads touting the product as a cigarette substitute for people who have nicotine cravings in non-smoking environments. The product is sold in four-packs of half-liter bottles, each of which has 4 mg of nicotine, an amount equal in punch to two cigarettes.

Martin said NicoWater poses a threat to all Mainers and to children in particular, and carries no health benefits. He said when the FDA ruled that QT 5 Inc., the California-based company that makes and markets NicoWater, could not market its product as a dietary supplement, the company changed it strategy to market it as a homeopathic supplement.

When Martin first raised concerns about the product, Brooks Pharmacy, based in Warwick, R.I., said it would no longer sell NicoWater. Rite Aid was the last place where people could buy the prouduct in Maine, Martin said.

Martin said he was surprised when he learned that Rite Aid decided to pull the product from its store shelves.

“I am really pleased by the action they took,” he said.

QT 5 Inc. executives were traveling from Maine to California on Thursday and were unavailable for comment. They had traveled to Maine to defend NicoWater before the committee as it debated the proposed bill.

The company president has said in the past that new laws that ban smoking in bars and other establishments underscore the need for nicotine substitutes.

AP-ES-01-08-04 1803EST



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