New Study Finds Drugs Alone Will Not Help Smokers Quit

University of California San Diego School of Medicine

A study from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has found that clinical trials demonstrate medication is not enough on its own to help smokers give up. The study found that the use of Varenicline, Bupropion and nicotine replacement techniques did not have the hoped -for effect of doubling smoking cessation rates in real word trials, 30 days after abstinence began.

The study also found that medication for smoking cessation is most effective when combined with other complementary therapies such as behavioural therapy. Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study was designed to test the performance of the drugs against data gathered between 2002-2003 and 2010-2011 from the US Census data related to tobacco use. This data was then tested against 12 potential factors including age, ethnicity and smoking habits, which may have influenced the findings.¶

Using a method called ‘matching’, the scientists attempted to identify the groups within the study that were most likely to use aids in order to quit smoking, whilst simultaneously having factors about their profiles (such as heavy smoking) that made it more difficult for them to stop.¶

An author of the study, John P. Pierce, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center, said: “34% of people who are trying to quit smoking use pharmaceutical aids and yet most are not successful. The results of randomized trials that tested these interventional drugs showed the promise of doubling cessation rates, but that has not translated into the real world.”

The report’s authors expressed surprise at the findings, given the promise shown by the drugs in previous clinical trials and their popularity among doctors helping patients to quit smoking, suggesting that the amount of complementary support given to subjects in clinical trials doesn’t often happen in real-world use. As a result, the effectiveness of the drugs over other factors such as behavioural change therapy and alternatives to cigarettes is exaggerated.

These latest findings come on the back of other research which has found that vaping with e-cigarettes is the best complementary method of stopping smoking out of eight methods, including counselling, prescription drugs and family support. The research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health studied US data on American smokers gathered between 2013 and 2014, and found that of all the treatments, e-cigarettes were the only method that increased the likelihood quitting more than an unaided attempt.

The study surveyed a combination of current smokers and former smokers in order to identify which cessation methods they had tried, and which cessation methods had led them to quit successfully.