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University researchers are seeking smokers to take part in an innovative trial that aims to unlock the key to nicotine addiction.

Researchers from the University of NSW are undertaking a study that doubles as a free quit support program.

The research compares two smoking cessation aids – a natural plant extract, cytisine (also known as Desmoxan) and the more expensive prescription drug widely available, varenicline, or Champix.

Cytisine, which does not contain nicotine, has not yet been trialled in Australia, but had promising results in a recent New Zealand trial.

It has also been used in central and eastern Europe for more than 50 years.

Trial leader Ryan Courtney says both aids work similarly by reducing cravings and other withdrawal symptoms caused by quitting smoking, but the aim is to discover which is better. 

He says treatment costs are one of the barriers to quitting for many smokers.

“Cytisine has a shorter treatment period of one month, compared to three months for varenicline,” he said.

“If cytisine is shown to be as effective as varenicline but at a significantly lower cost it could produce substantial savings for health care systems and consumers.”

Tobacco smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. It claims the lives of 15,500 Australians every year, according to Cancer Council.

In the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, 16.2 per cent of adults are smokers – the 6th highest in the local health districts of NSW, recorded by HealthStats NSW 2017.

Respiratory physician at Sutherland Hospital and UNSW conjoint lecturer, Ben Kwan, is one of the associate investigators of the study.

His role is to help identify and recruit patients and offer them an alternative.

“There are not many significant studies like this that compare medication,” he said.

“Right now, patients can access PBS funded medications but it’s great for us to research treatments and compare effectiveness.

“Champix is the best pharmaceutical treatment we have on the market, but at the moment the comparisons are nicotine replacement dual therapy such as patches and gum.

“Cytisine showed to be better than placebo effects.”

Dr Kwan says smoking rates in the region are largely due to its high migrant population.

“Lots of our work goes into looking at the high migration rates of patients from low socio-economic backgrounds and Aboriginal patients,” he said.

“They have poorer access to medication and treatment.”

But he said psychological help was equally as important to helping people quit.

“Medication alone is not as effective without psychological support,” he said.

“We are dealing with smokers who find it difficult to quit because nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and it’s very hard for them if they don’t have the necessary support.”

Researchers plan to recruit 1266 people whose progress will be followed across five telephone calls in a seven month period.

Those who agree to be part of the study will be randomly put into one of two groups – each trialling either Desmoxan or Champix.

They will also get free access to quit smoking support and a financial reimbursement for their time.

Quit aids will be mailed to participants.

People can participate if they are over 18 and are smoking daily but want to quit.

Details: 1800 290 612 or email