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NAQC Newsroom: Research

NPRI-funded Smoking Cessation Trial

Thursday, September 29, 2011  
Posted by: Natalia Gromov

£2-a-week pill 'helps smokers quit habit'(The Times p23) by Sam Lister, September 29 2011 12:01AM

A course of pills likely to cost less than £2 a week can help people to quit smoking as effectively as any other medication and at a tiny fraction of the price, a study has shown. Researchers said that using cytisine can triple a smoker's chances of giving up. More significantly, it could become the first treatment that costs less than a packet of cigarettes.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and led by scientists at University College London, involved 740 patients who took cytisine or a placebo for four weeks. No other health counselling was offered.

Those on cytisine were 3.4 times more likely to succeed than those on the placebo. After a year, 8.4 per cent of participants had quit smoking, a similar rate to nicotine patches and gums.

The findings, published inThe New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that on a longer course and with counselling, cytisine will perform similarly to the most successful stop-smoking product, Champix (varenicline) which has a 20 per cent success rate.

Professor Robert West, who led the study based at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL and the Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology in Warsaw, said the pill might be licensed in the UK within three years.

He added that licensing authorities in countries such as China and India may go with the current data, meaning that it would be used there significantly sooner.

Cytisine, a nicotine substitute naturally found in laburnum seeds, has been available for more than 40 years as Tabex in some parts of Central and Eastern Europe. However, there had been a lack of robust clinical evidence to prove whether the drug was effective until now.

Two thirds of the world's one billion smokers live in countries where the average household income is less than £130 a week, and where health systems do not cover the costs of such treatments.

A 12-week course of Champix costs about £150. In countries such as India and China, courses of nicotine replacement therapy can cost between £100 and £250, whereas a packet of cigarettes can be as little as 50 pence.

Currently Tabex is sold in countries such as Russia at £6 for a four-week course.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said the study was great news because smokers around the world could now get access to a new way to help them beat their addiction. Recent studies have suggested that 70 per cent of smokers would like to stop.

"When so many smokers are trying so hard to give up it is ridiculous that tobacco companies are still able to market their deadly products in ways that draw young people into smoking,” she said. "We hope that cytisine will help low and middle-income countries meet their obligations to help treat nicotine dependence under the World Health Organisation's treaty on tobacco.”

David Willetts, the Science Minister, paid tribute to the research team and said he hoped it would be a major step forward.

"Smoking is a major global public health issue, and it's great that UK researchers have provided new scientific evidence on such a cost-effective treatment. This study will provide governments, health organisations and charities with reliable research that could increase access to a potentially life-changing drug for millions of people.”

The Press Release can be found at http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Newspublications/News/MRC008199


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