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Quit smoking, start sipping ... tea

Power Pitch

Matt Bucklin used to be addicted to cigarettes.  And like a lot of people, he wanted to stop but had a hard time quitting. He says herbs helped him give up lighting-up for good, and now he wants to help others quit smoking and start sipping.

“I quit smoking using detoxing herbs from the health food store. I lost my taste for cigarettes and had the idea that a tea would be the best way to deliver the herbs,” Bucklin told CNBC.

CNBC’s “Power Pitch” gave Bucklin the CEO and founder of Quit Tea 60 seconds to serve his big idea to a panel of experts that includes former chain smoker and restaurateur Joe Bastianich, and Chris Schroeder, former CEO of Healthcentral.com.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 43.8 million smokers in the U.S. and more than 68 percent say they want to quit.

Bucklin's Quit Tea website makes it sound pretty simple:

"Quit smoking start sipping."

The tea Bucklin, a former pharmaceutical analyst, wants smokers to start sipping is a potent smelling concoction of herbs you've probably heard of including cinnamon, oregano, cayenne pepper, fennel, ginger, licorice root, St. John's wort and others. What the ingredient list does not include is nicotine or any other drug. Unlike the popular gum Nicorette, nicotine patches or electronic cigarettes that deliver small doses of nicotine designed to wean people off the fix they get from cigarettes, the herbal tea Bucklin is selling does not actually treat nicotine addiction.

Schroeder had a simple question for the Quit Tea founder: “Is this something that really helps people to quit smoking?”

“It's all about reconditioning the habit to replace it with something else,” answered Bucklin, “The idea is that there are going to be triggers for you to want to smoke the rest of your life but eventually you can change those triggers to do something else, like go make a cup of herbal tea."

Bucklin's website recommends about three to five cups a day and the box suggests drinking the tea over a nine-week period.

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“I put nine weeks on there because there is a lot of research that suggests that you can create a new habit within nine weeks,” Bucklin said.

The Quit Tea website includes no independent data on the number of users who actually quit, and the tea that’s labeled as a "smoking alternative" includes this disclaimer on every box:

“*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and this product is not intended to “diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” Nicotine addiction is a disease and you may want to consult a physician before quitting smoking.

Smoke-free competition

Quit Tea faces some stiff competition from pharmaceutical companies with FDA-approved products that are proven to help smokers quit by addressing nicotine addiction. GlaxoSmithKline--maker of Nicorette, NiQuitin and Nicorette--markets gums, lozenges, oral strips and patches that deliver controlled amounts of nicotine to users. While Pfizer (PFE) markets a nicotine inhaler called Nicotrol and a non-nicotine prescription medication called Chantix that targets nicotine receptors in the brain.

Infusing shelves with Quit Tea

Despite all the competition, Bucklin has managed to get his Quit Tea onto shelves at select Whole Foods stores (WFM), independent health food stores and Walgreens.com (WAG)

A box of Quit Tea includes 20 tea bags and retails for around $11.

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The self-funded start-up is a bootstrap operation. Bucklin said his most effective marketing has been Quit Tea’s free sample program.

“I put it up when I first started selling because I wanted everybody to try a cup of tea before making the decision to buy and go ahead with it," said Bucklin. The program quickly went from sending out about 50 tea bags a week to 10,000 a month.

Bucklin told CNBC that he sells on average 500 boxes per month wholesale, and retail sales for 2013 are approximately $70,000.

Founded in 2011, Quit Tea is headquartered in Los Angeles. Bucklin serves as its only full-time employee and investor- self funding the company with less than $75,000.

See Matt Bucklin @mhbucklin of @QuitTea deliver a 60-second “Power Pitch” to restaurateur Joe Bastianich @jbastianich, entrepreneur and VC Chris Schroeder @cmschroed, and CNBC host Mandy Drury @mandycnbc.

See MattBucklin @mhbucklin of @QuitTea deliver a 60-second “Power Pitch” to restaurateur Joe Bastianich@jbastianich, entrepreneur and VC Chris Schroeder (cmschroed), and CNBC host Mandy Drury @mandycnbc.

--Additional reporting by Erin Barry and Ray Parisi

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