While electronic cigarettes, nicotine gum and nicotine patches are choices for smokers looking to kick the habit, Chapel Hill startup e-Nicotine says it can provide a better alternative plus technology to monitor the quitting process.

The problem with the current slate of smoking cessation products is that they are ineffective at delivering nicotine, the compound that triggers cravings in the brain, explained e-Nicotine Chief Medical Officer Michael Hufford during CED’s Life Science Conference in Raleigh on Wednesday. Because those products don’t deliver nicotine effectively, they are less effective at helping wean smokers from cigarettes.

E-Nicotine has developed what it says is a better way to get nicotine to the “deep lung” where it is best absorbed. The proprietary thermal drug delivery technology administers an aerosol of clean nicotine without the other chemicals and compounds in cigarette smoke. E-Nicotine now aims to raise $3.3 million, which it will use to get human proof of concept data on its nicotine delivery system within nine months.

The e-Nicotine technology will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products for regulatory review. Hufford said e-Nicotine would need another $20 million to get to a CTP submission. But the company projects a large commercial opportunity. Hufford said that while 85 percent of smokers want to quit, just 5 percent will succeed. He pegs the commercial market for smoking cessation at more than $80 billion in the U.S. alone.

While e-cigarettes mimic the act of smoking, they don’t do a good job delivering a sufficient amount of nicotine to the brain, Hufford said. E-Nicotine’s technology delivers nicotine at between 1 and 3 microns in size – small enough to get to the deep lung just as cigarette smoke reaches deep lung tissue. It’s that delivery capability that most closely mimics – to the brain, anyway – the craving experience of smoking a cigarette.

E-Nicotine plans to make its product available with technology that will allow smokers to monitor their nicotine intake as they taper their use. Hufford said e-Nicotine will launch a web site and an application to crowd source development of the electronic tools that will accompany the nicotine delivery technology. Who better than smokers to tell e-Nicotine what’s helpful to them, Hufford said.