New drug far more effective in stopping smokers lighting up

An experimental smoking cessation drug by Pfizer apparently gives smokers better odds at kicking the habit.

It seems the drug, Varenicline, was more effective than the currently used Zyban made by GlaxoSmithKline, and far more effective than a placebo in helping smokers quit the habit.

In these latest studies, 44% of smokers taking Varenicline were able to stop smoking, while only 30% of those taking the already-approved Zyban and only 18% of those who took a placebo, were able to quit.

Importantly too, a year later, 23% of people taking Varenicline were still off the cigarettes as against 15% on Zyban.

Dr. Serena Tonstad, a professor of nutrition at the University of Oslo who led the trial, says that Varenicline is a leap forward for smokers and a better tool, to use to quit smoking.

Tonstad, MD, PhD. is also a physician in the department of preventive cardiology at Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo, Norway and she says the new drug packs a double whammy against the deadly addiction.

It initially attaches itself to nicotine receptors in the brain and this prevents the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that makes people feel rewarded; as a result they don't crave more nicotine, says Tonstad.

As it also activates the nicotine receptors, and fewer cravings or withdrawal symptoms are experienced.

Two of the new studies, included as many as 2,000 smokers who were randomly assigned to receive varenicline, Zyban, or a placebo; none knew which they were taking.

In a third study of 1,206 smokers who knew they were taking varenicline, 44% were still smoke-free a year later, compared with 37% of those who received a placebo.

Experts believe more methods to fight the addiction are badly needed, and that the knowledge that they were receiving a smoke aid may have helped more people fight the urge to start again.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General's Health Consequences of Smoking report from 2004, on average, men who smoke die 13.2 years earlier than men who do not smoke, and women who smoke die 14.5 years earlier than women who do not smoke.

All experts agree it is never too late to stop smoking and according to the World Health Organization, a smoker's risk of developing heart disease drops by 50% within one year of quitting, and after 15 years, the risk of dying from heart disease approaches that of someone who never ever lit up a cigarette.

The studies were presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

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