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Combo Approach for Smokers Looking to Quit

Study finds drug Chantix plus nicotine patch beats use of the patch alone
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Combining two anti-smoking approaches -- the medication Chantix and nicotine patches -- improves the odds you'll quit smoking over the short term, a new industry-funded study suggests.

"The combination appears to be safe, although further studies are needed to confirm this," said Dr. Coenie Koegelenberg, an associate professor of pulmonology with Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital in South Africa.

Although the dual treatment costs more than either agent separately, Koegelenberg said the drugs typically aren't used for long and will reduce overall health costs if smokers succeed in quitting.

Chantix, known by the generic name varenicline, appears to help people stop smoking by interfering with the way that nicotine stimulates the brain.

However, smokers who take Chantix may be at higher risk for heart attacks and stroke compared to those who don't take it, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in 2012. But the increased risk is small and should be weighed against the risks of continuing to smoke, the agency said.

Nicotine patches deliver less nicotine -- the addictive element in cigarettes -- than smokers receive from cigarettes. This helps reduce withdrawal symptoms while trying to quit.

While the study found the combination treatment more effective than using nicotine patches alone, it's not a silver bullet. More than one-third of the 400-plus participants were still smoking six months after starting the dual treatment.

Combining Chantix and nicotine patches had been suggested before but it wasn't clear if this approach would be effective and safe.

The current study, published in the July 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was funded by Pfizer and McNeil, makers of Chantix and nicotine patches.

Researchers randomly assigned 446 smokers -- mostly women -- to take Chantix and a nicotine patch or the patch with a placebo. Treatment continued for 14 weeks.

At 12 weeks, 55 percent of those who took both medications had continuously stopped smoking compared to 41 percent of those who got the placebo. After six months, the numbers were 49 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

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