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Quitting smoking: Best drug differs for men and women

Papierosa_1_ubt_0069It’s tough to quit smoking. I’ve seen friends and family members struggle with nicotine withdrawal symptoms: cravings for tobacco, anxiety, anger, irritation, increased hunger and even trouble thinking.

One out of six adults in the United States currently smoke and about half of them are trying to quit, but the success rate remains low. What's the best way to stop smoking? A new study may help point the way — for women.

The study found that a medication frequently used to help smokers quit is more effective for women than men. Philip Smith, PhD, assistant medical professor at the City College of New York, led the multi-institutional study: a meta-analysis of 28 randomized clinical trials involving a total of 14,389 smokers (51 percent female).

The researchers did a head-to-head comparison between the three common types of medications used for smoking cessation: the nicotine patch, varenicline (sold as Chantix and Champix) and sustained-release bupropion (sold as Wellburtin or Zyban). The quit rate of the participants was based on biochemical verification of their abstinence after six months.

The authors reported the results in a paper in Nicotine & Tobacco Research:

Women treated with varenicline were 41 percent more likely to achieve 6-month abstinence compared to women treated with TN [transdermal nicotine patch], and were 38 percent more likely to achieve 6-month abstinence than women treated with bupropion. For men, the benefit of varenicline over TN and bupropion were smaller and were not statistically significant.

“Before our study, research had shown that among the choices for medications for smokers who wanted to quit, varenicline was the clear winner when it came to promoting quitting,” said Smith in a recent news release. “Our study shows this is clearly the case for women. The story seems less clear among men, who showed less of a difference when taking any of the three medications.”

The research findings identify varenicline as a particularly potent first option treatment for women. However, the good news for all smokers is that all three medicines significantly improved quit rates for both men and women, when compared with placebo.

If you’re trying to quit smoking, a combination of counseling and medication has been shown to be an effective way to treat tobacco dependence — speak with your doctor or contact a smoking cessation program.

Previously: Sleep-deprivation and stress among factors contributing to smoking relapse after childbirthIs a proposed ban on smoking in public housing fair? and The devil you know: Experts discuss the public health consequences of e-cigarettes
Photograph by Tomasz Sienicki

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