- Drug has been used in eastern Europe for 40 years
- ‘Alice in Wonderland’ regulations are holding up product, claims scientist
A nicotine substitute which can be bought online for 12p more than triples a smoker’s chances of quitting for at least a year, research has shown.
Tabex, which contains the active ingredient cytisine, is obtained from laburnum seeds.
Experts believe the drug is as effective as conventional stop-smoking treatments and could save the NHS millions of pounds a year.
The origins of the drug can be traced to German and Russian soldiers in World War II who smoked laburnum leaves when they ran out of nicotine.
But despite four decades of use in eastern Europe, the pills are unlikely to be available on prescription in the UK for another two to three years.
They can legally be bought online, but experts fear this leaves customers at risk of scammers selling poor quality counterfeit drugs.
The British scientist who led the recent Tabex trial spoke of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ regulatory system responsible for the delay.
Professor Robert West, from the Cancer
Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College
London, said he expected to see a flood of internet orders for Tabex
once news about the drug got out.
‘It’s been available in central and eastern Europe for more than 40 years, we have safety data on millions of people, and we know it’s effective, but it’s not licensed in Britain,’ he said.
‘People can make their own choices. A licence is not a licence to buy, it’s a licence to market.
‘There’s nothing illegal about buying this drug online, but there’s always the risk that you might not get what you expect.’
The trial, involving 740 patients, showed that people who wanted to stop smoking were 3.4 times more likely to succeed with Tabex than with a ‘dummy’ placebo tablet.
Participants took between two and six pills per day for 25 days. After treatment, 8.4 per cent of those given Tabex were able to avoid smoking for a year compared with 2.4 per cent of the placebo group.
The low overall success rates reflected how hard it was even for motivated smokers to quit, said the researchers.
However Professor West said his team was ‘extremely encouraged’ by the results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.