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Want to Quit Smoking? East European Drug Cytisine May Work Better Than Nicotine Patches

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Although smoking is known to increase a person's risks for premature death, many smokers have difficulty quitting the habit. Those who are intent sometimes had to rely on smoking cessation products with nicotine patches as one of the most popular options.

Findings of a new study, however, suggest that a plant-based drug called cytisine may be more effective than nicotine replacement therapy when it comes to helping smokers quit their unhealthy habit.

Natalie Walker, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and colleagues compared the safety and efficacy of cytisine, which had been helping smokers quit in Central and Eastern Europe since the 1960's, and nicotine-replacement therapy.

More than 1,300 men and women who contacted a national smoking hotline in New Zealand participated in the study and were randomly assigned to either take cytisine pills for 25 days or have eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy using patches, gum and/or lozenges.

One month later, 31 percent of the participants who used nicotine replacement therapy said they had not smoked, but the rate in those who used cytisine pills is higher at 40 percent. The researchers explained why cytisine is effective in helping smokers quit.

Walker said that the chemical alleviates the urge to smoke and lessens the severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms because the brain perceives cytisine like nicotine. Smoking is also less satisfying while using cytisine.

Unfortunately, the pill had some side effects. The researchers said that in every ten individuals who used it, three reported side effects albeit these did not last long and were not serious. In comparison, unwanted effects were reported by only two of every 10 people using nicotine replacement therapy. Side effects reported for both smoking cessation methods include bad dreams, nausea, and vomiting.

"When combined with brief behavioral support, cytisine was found to be superior to nicotine-replacement therapy in helping smokers quit smoking, but it was associated with a higher frequency of self-reported adverse events," the researchers wrote in their study published in the England Journal of Medicine on Dec. 18.

Compared with other cessation products, cytisine is also more affordable costing as little as $1 a day making it an affordable option for smokers who want to quit.

"The real appeal is for low- and middle-income countries because they can't even afford nicotine replacement therapy but they could afford cytisine," Walker said.

The cytisine pills are made in Poland and Bulgaria and are marketed as Tabex and Desmoxan.

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