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New study compares Chantix to the nicotine patch

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We have already talked about the studies showing that Chantix (varenicline or Champix outside the US) is more effective than both placebo pills and Zyban (bupropion) for smoking cessation. There has also been one study comparing smoking cessation outcomes before and after Chantix was available (by John Stapleton and colleagues in the UK).

Today a new study has been published comparing the effects of a standard course of Chantix (12 weeks) with a normal course of the nicotine patch (10 weeks) for stopping smoking. This was a randomized “open-label” study, meaning that neither the participants nor the researchers were able to choose which participants got which treatment, (they were allocated to treatment on the basis of random numbers), but that everyone new which treatment they got (i.e. there were no placebo or dummy patches or pills).

The study by Aubin and colleagues was carried out across 5 countries (Europe and USA), with 376 smokers being assigned to Chantix and 370 to the patch. All the participants smoked at least 15 cigarettes per day (average = 23 per day). The participants were required to be relatively healthy with no unstable illnesses within the previous 6 months (including psychological problems or substance dependence). None had used nicotine replacement therapy in the previous 6 months. About half (48%) had previously tried the nicotine patch, and almost 90% had previously tried to quit. The average age of participants was 43, and they had smoked for around 26 years. 93% of the participants were white.

Participants attended weekly appointments for the first 12 weeks, then had 7 further appointments up to the one year follow-up, as well as 5 telephone contacts.

3 months after the target quit date, 56% of those treated with Chantix had not used any tobacco during the prior month, as had 42% of those treated with the nicotine patch. This advantage for Chantix treatment was statistically significant. At the one year follow-up (i.e. after about 9 months without treatment medications) 26% of those allocated Chantix treatment remained remained quit, as did 20% of those treated with the patch (also a statistically significant difference). During the first 7 weeks of treatment, those treated with Chantix reported significantly lower craving, negative affect (bad mood) and restlessness.

About twice as many patients treated with Chantix (8%) as the patch (4.3%) had to discontinue the medicine due to an adverse event. The most frequent adverse events were nausea (37% on Chantix versus 10% on the patch), insomnia (around 20% in both groups) and headache (19% Chantix, 10% patch).

There has been some recent concern (discussed on this forum) about Chantix potentially causing depression and suicidal thoughts. In this trial, one person became depressed and it was believed to be caused by Chantix, and another person had suicidal thoughts (causing hospitalization) 11 days after completing Chantix treatment. These low rates of serious depression (<1%) in association with Chantix treatment are consistent with prior reports. It is interesting that ratings of “negative affect” were significantly lower among those taking Chantix than the patch during the first 7 weeks (meaning that Chantix users experienced, on average less bad moods/depressive thoughts than those wearing the patch). So the etiology of depression while taking Chantix remains a mystery. One possibility is that Chantix, because it is slightly more effective than prior medications, enables some people to successfully quit who would not otherwise have succeeded, and some of those people may be more prone to depression in association with quitting smoking.

Overall, the results from this study are consistent with previous studies in showing that Chantix is probably the most effective single medicine for smoking cessation, that it frequently causes mild side effects (e.g. transient nausea) and that serious adverse events are uncommon.

Ref:
Aubin HJ et al. Varenicline versus transdermal nicotine patch for smoking cessation: results from a randomized, open-label trial. Thorax published online Feb 8, 2008.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

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

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