Prescription pills ‘no better than patches’ for smokers who want to quit

The three most common ways to quit smoking are all equally effective, according to a study published in the online journal JAMA.

Among adults who wanted to quit smoking, 12 weeks of treatment with a nicotine patch, the drug varenicline, or a combination of patches and lozenges produced no significant differences in rates of smoking abstinence.

The drug varenicline is prescription-only and is sold as Champix in Britain and as Chantix in the US.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin randomly assigned smokers to one of three 12-week smoking cessation pharmacotherapy groups: nicotine patch, varenicline and C-NRT (patches and lozenges). The subjects were also given six counselling sessions. The most common outcome achieved was one full week of abstinence in a period of six months.

The researchers found that the results were not significantly different at 26 or 52 weeks. Roughly a fifth of the subjects had quit smoking after a year regardless of their treatment.

The researchers also noted that varenicline produced more frequent side effects, including insomnia, nausea, constipation, sleepiness and indigestion.

The study’s lead author, Timothy Baker, said: ‘To our knowledge, this open-label study is the first to directly contrast varenicline and C-NRT pharmacotherapies, both with one another and with the nicotine patch. Results showed no significant differences among these three pharmacotherapies in any of the 26- or 52-week abstinence measures.’

The authors of the study say that, because the treatments differ in cost and regulation, it is important to identify which is most effective for long-term smoking abstinence.

In Britain a full course of Champix is £17.50 a week, compared to £13 a week for nicotine patches. The Champix label also carries warnings of serious psychiatric side effects and suicidal thoughts.

Dr Neal Benowitz, a nicotine addiction researcher at the University of California San Francisco, told Reuters it was possible the subjects’ less than a pack-a-day smoking habit and the intense counselling of all participants made it harder to uncover differences between the treatments.