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Immediate and delayed quitting

Last week I attended the 4th annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (Europe) in Madrid. This is a conference where the top researchers present their latest research findings. As you can imagine a lot of fascinating stuff was presented. One that I particularly liked was presented by David Gonzales of the Health and Sciences University in Portland. He presented data on immediate quitting (i.e. those who succeeded in quitting on their target quit date with no lapses) and delayed quitting (i.e. those who had some lapses after the initial target quit date but then managed to get quit and stay quit) among patients treated with either varenicline (Chantix), bupropion (Zyban), or placebo.

For me the interesting thing was that Chantix and Zyban each improved the proportion who initially quit (over placebo), but Chantix also increased the proportion who managed to achieve abstinence after their initial target quit date. Dr Gonzalez presented a nice diagram showing that the number of patients achieving abstinence continued to increase across the first 12 weeks among those on Chantix or Zyban (although it increased faster among those on Chantix).

Colleagues have remarked that patients taking Chantix are less focused on the target quit day (typically day 8 of taking Chantix) than we are used to. We think that’s because almost all of the patients we treated before Chantix were also using nicotine replacement therapy (sometimes combined with Zyban/bupropion). The NRT (patch, gum etc) is typically started on the target quit day and so patients are very aware of the importance of that day. We don’t typically combine Chantix with NRT (as the Chantix is supposed to block the nicotine receptors in the brain) and so on Chantix its easier to see the target quit date as less distinct from any other day and just continue reducing cigarette consumption rather than quitting completely.

The take-home message for patients is that it still makes sense to select a target quit-date (day 8) and to try to quit smoking completely on that day. However, if you don’t immediately get quit, don’t give up on yourself or on the medicines. The evidence suggests that if you keep trying you will likely achieve abstinence, and that Chantix improves your chances, so long as you keep trying and keep taking the medicine. On the other hand, its important to be clear that the aim of the game is to quit completely, and its better in the long run to throw away the cigarettes and get on with it.
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.