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Starting Chantix earlier may help smokers quit

July 07, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • Taking the drug Chantix for several weeks before one's "quit date" may help with smoking cessation.
Taking the drug Chantix for several weeks before one's "quit… (Chris Goodney / Bloomberg )

The smoking-cessation drug Chantix may work better if people take it several weeks before trying to quit, a new study has found.

Chantix, or varenicline, appears to soothe withdrawal symptoms related to quitting while reducing the urge to smoke. People usually take the drug beginning one week before their targeted "quit date." In the new study, however, researchers in England gave the medication to 53 people beginning four weeks before their quit date and throughout the remainder of the three-month cessation period. That group was compared with people who were given three weeks of a placebo pill followed by one week of Chantix before their quit day and for the remainder of the study. The participants, who entered the study because they wanted to quit smoking, didn't know if they were receiving the standard one week of Chantix or four weeks of the medication in the period before the quit date.

Researchers found that those who started Chantix for a month before the quit date were more likely to be abstinent at the three-month mark: 47.2% were abstinent compared with 20.8% of the people in the placebo group. People taking Chantix who reduced smoking in the period prior to their quit date were more likely to be nonsmokers at 12 weeks. There were no unusual side effects associated with starting Chantix four weeks before quitting.

The study, while preliminary, raises some interesting questions. Although more research is needed, it could be that the current recommendations for how to use Chantix could be changed to increase the odds of success, such as having a longer "pre-loading" Chantix period, the authors said. A weakness of the study is that it followed the participants for only three months so the long-term success of these participants is unknown.

In addition, Chantix may be useful to help reduce the number of cigarettes people smoke even if they don't quit smoking -- a tactic called harm reduction. "Although various harm reduction approaches remain controversial, there is increasing acceptance among health professionals and government bodies that for some "hard-core" smokers, harm reduction is an option that merits serious consideration," the authors wrote.

The study was published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Related: Smoking bans may not be embraced in South, but they're no stranger either

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