According to new research, a drug known as cytisine, which is available in Europe but not approved in the United States, may provide a substantially cheaper alternative to Chantix to help people quit smoking.
A study published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that users of the cytisine, which was first introduced more than 40 years ago, stayed off cigarettes for a year at rates comparable to that of newer prescription medications, such as Chantix and Zyban.
While some users reported suffering gastrointestinal illnesses, the study was too small to fully evaluate the potential side effects of cytisine and further studies are necessary to ensure that it is safe and effective.
Cytisine, which is marketed as Tabex in Central and Eastern Europe, is made from seeds of the Golden Rain acacia and has a similar affect on the body as nicotine, due to the structural similarty between the two molecules. It has not been approved for sale in the U.S. by the FDA.
British resarchers conducted a randomized, double-blind study on 740 smoking adults, half of whom were given Tabex and the other half a placebo. They found that 8.4% of adults given Tabex practiced smoking abstinence for a year, compared to only 2.4% of those on a placebo. That’s comparable with Chantix and Zyban, experts say.
A month’s supply of cytisine may cost only about $15, compared to $63 for a month’s supply of the relatively new anti-smoking drug Chantix (varenicline), which was introduced in the United States in 2006.
Although many expected Chantix to become a blockbuster medication to help people quit smoking, sales have been impacted by serious concerns about an increased risk of suicide, violence and aggressive behavior linked to potential Chantix side effects.
Chantix works by reducing the positive feelings that come from cigarettes, blocking the receptors in the brain commonly stimulated by nicotine. However, the medication has been associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric injuries leading to behavioral changes, depression, aggression, agitation, hostility, rage, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and, in many cases, successful suicide. It also may increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
Hundreds of individuals throughout the United States are currently pursuing a Chantix lawsuit against Pfizer, alleging that the drug maker introduced the medication without fully researching the impact it has on the brain and then heavily marketed the drug with inadequate warnings for consumers or the medical community.
A cheaper, and potentially safer, alternative to Chantix could save many thousands of lives by helping stop smoking. The study, which was funded by Britain’s National Prevention Research Initiative, notes that approximately 5 million people throughout the world die each year from smoking related illnesses.