Home Family Practice Varenicline May Help Smokers Not Yet Ready to Quit

Varenicline May Help Smokers Not Yet Ready to Quit

But drug’s side effects still worry some doctors

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 18, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Varenicline (Chantix) can boost the likelihood that cigarette smokers who aren’t ready to stop cold turkey will cut down gradually, a new study suggests. The research appears in the Feb. 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the new study, researchers targeted a particular kind of smoker: Someone not ready to quit within the next month but willing to try to reduce smoking and quit in three months. Study lead author Jon Ebbert, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., explained to HealthDay: “Some smokers prefer to reduce the number of cigarettes that they smoke before quitting smoking completely.” He added that research is divided over whether this is a good idea compared to quitting completely. U.S. health guidelines recommend quitting abruptly.

For the study, researchers in 10 countries, including the United States, randomly assigned 1,510 smokers to take varenicline or a placebo over 24 weeks. All of the smokers were interested in cutting down but not prepared to quit cold turkey. The team questioned participants and tested their exhaled carbon monoxide levels to see how much smoking they’d done. After a month, 47.1 percent of those who took varenicline reduced smoking by more than half or stopped altogether, compared to 31.1 percent of those who got the placebo. From 21 to 52 weeks, more than one-quarter (27.0 percent) of those who took the drug had not smoked, compared to 9.9 percent of those who took the placebo.

However, 3.7 percent of varenicline users suffered serious side effects, compared to 2.2 percent of those who took the placebo, the researchers reported. Side effects reported in the study included nausea, insomnia, abnormal dreams, and headache.

Varenicline is manufactured by Pfizer, which funded the study.

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