Promising pill for kicking the smoking habit

A low-cost quit-smoking pill is more effective than nicotine-replacement therapy, according to new research from the University of Auckland, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Tabex box
Cytisine tablets are marketed as Tabex in Bulgaria

In a randomised trial, more than 1,300 participants, recruited via Quitline, were given either the drug cytisine or standard nicotine gum or lozenges. Forty per cent of smokers who took the cytisine pills had been “continuously abstinent” in the month after their nominated quit day, significantly more than the 31 per cent using standard nicotine replacement therapy. Continuous abstinence is defined as smoking no more than five cigarettes.

The authors of the study concluded that cytisine was better than nicotine-replacement therapy for helping smokers quit , but noted participants using the drug reported more side effects including  nausea, vomiting and sleep disturbances. .

Cytisine is a natural, plant-based compound that has been used in smoking cessation for more than 40 years in Eastern Europe and is commercially produced in Bulgaria and Poland.   According to the researchers, cytisine is similar to cessation drug varenicline (sold as Champix in New Zealand), but much cheaper.

“There is a big opportunity for low and middle income countries to access a low priced quit remedy,” said lead author Dr Natalie Walker in a media release. “It’s great for countries that cannot afford more expensive smoking cessation medicines.”

The research has been widely covered in both national and international media:

Radio New Zealand: Plant-based compound helps smokers quit
New Zealand Herald: Smoking pill could be the answer to addiction
3 News: Natural quit smoking remedy comes out top study
New Scientist: Plant extract trumps nicotine patches to quit smoking
WebMD: Cheap Natural Compound May Help Smokers Quit
Science News: Old product might help smokers quit