Prescription Drug Hasn’t Help Quitting Rate of Smokers: Study

UC San Diego researchers say varenicline hasn't helped the rate of smokers trying to quit

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A prescription drug aimed at helping smokers quit has not boosted the number of adults who have successfully stopped smoking, according to a new study from the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Researchers say since the drug varenicline — marketed as Chantix — was introduced in 2006, it has had no significant impact on the quitting rate among Americans ages 18 and older.

The drug’s primary effect, the study says, was to displace the use of older tobacco cessation aids like nicotine patches and gum.

“We had hoped the new pharmacotherapy would help more people quit, but this is not what is happening,” said lead author Shu-Hong Zhu, Ph.D., a UC San Diego professor, in a news release. “Instead, varenicline is replacing other options like the patch, without having any significant population-level impact on quitting success.”

Varenicline’s ability to help smokers quit also appears to be short-lived, lasting for about three months, according to the findings. Users no longer have higher rates of success after that period.

“We are not saying Chantix does not help smokers quit,” said Zhu. “It does, but it won’t solve America’s tobacco epidemic unless it inspires more smokers to try to quit.”

To come to that conclusion, UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers looked at two U.S. Census Bureau surveys that tracked 39,000 adults’ efforts to quit in the past year. They also recorded which nicotine replacement therapies the smokers used.

The Census Bureau surveys were conducted in 2003, before varenicline was commercially available, and in 2010-11, after it was released to the market.

While the number of people using cessation aids rose over that period — from 28.7 percent in 2003 to 31.1 percent in 2011 — the number of people who failed to break the habit remained nearly the same.

In 2003, about 4.5 percent of smokers said they quit for at least a year, and in 2011, 4.7 percent reported stopping.

NBC 7 has reached out to Pfizer, the maker of Chantix, but we have not heard back.

The UC San Diego study was funded in part by the National Cancer Institute under the State and Community Tobacco Control Initiative, the school says.

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