New Treatment Could Help Millions of Vape Users Quit

3 min read

May 20, 2024 – Lauren Rogers, a 23-year-old content creator, knew that her vaping was making the dizziness associated with her POTS diagnosis worse. But she couldn’t stop.

“I was so addicted,” she said.

After seeing videos online of former vape users sharing the benefits of being nicotine-free, Rogers tried it herself. She was successful at first, but after a hard day, she relapsed and took up cigarettes.

Kicking addictions like vaping can feel impossible for the estimated 11 million U.S. adults who do it. But a drug that has historically been used to help people stop smoking cigarettes could serve as a beacon of hope for those hoping to quit vaping.

Cytisinicline, a plant-based alkaloid, is similar in structure to nicotine and interacts with nicotine receptors in the brain, helping to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with vaping.

If approved, the drug could become the first FDA-authorized treatment for vaping.

Study Results 

Cytisinicline has been around for some time and is used in parts of Europe and Asia as a cigarette smoking cessation treatment. But it has gained more attention in recent years as clinical trials and research have demonstrated that it's effective and safe. 

Out of 160 adult e-cigarette users who were part of a new study, those who took cytisinicline over a 12-week period were more than two times as likely to successfully quit vaping in weeks 9 to 12 as those who took a placebo, or 31.8%  vs. 15.1%, respectively, according to results recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.The participants took 3 milligrams of either cytisinicline or placebo tablets three times per day, and no major side effects or adverse events were reported. 

Withdraw Challenges

Nicotine withdrawal can be arguably the most challenging aspect of nixing a vaping habit. And quitting can be even harder for non-cigarette smokers who start vaping, largely due to nicotine’s addictive properties, according to Cindy Jacobs, MD, president and chief medical officer at Achieve Life Sciences, the drug company behind cytisinicline. 

Vaping technology is also becoming more sophisticated, with cool-looking devices that hold fruit-flavored smoke.

While cytisinicline binds to and activates nicotinic receptors in the brain, it does so with less intensity compared to nicotine. In other words, this partial activation helps to reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms without producing the same level of pleasure associated with nicotine.

Binding to these receptors also helps to reduce cravings associated with nicotine. The drug may also partially block the effects of nicotine if a person relapses, ultimately reducing the chances of a full relapse.

“You’re on cytisinicline and not getting that nicotine kind of effect. When you quit, you don't have those high nicotine withdrawal symptoms that make you restart up,” Jacobs said. 

Vaping Dangers

Vaping is popular among young adults, many of whom started vaping as teens, according to the study's lead author, Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Many of them are getting to a point where they don’t want to be addicted to nicotine anymore,” said Rigotti, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Or they are worrying about the potential long-term health effects of vaping and are thinking that they want to quit.”

Lung damagecardiovascular injury, and even potentially cancer-causing chemicals in flavored vapes are just a few of the possible long-term health consequences of vaping, Jacobs said. Extreme health events related to vaping have occurred; recently, a 22-year-old man in North Dakota underwent a double lung transplant related to his vaping and is now urging others to quit.