A pill approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week is being hailed as the simplest, most effective way to help America’s 50 million smokers quit their deadly habit.
Zyban recorded a 49-percent quit rate in subjects who took it, compared to just 36 percent for the popular nicotine patch. Zyban is the first smoking-cessation drug that doesn’t contain nicotine, and the first that lets smokers try to stop by just popping a pill.
The drug, widely prescribed for depression under the name Wellbutrin, should be available in drug stores, by prescription, in mid-July.
“It’s the single most important medical advance in the treatment of tobacco dependence since 1984,” said Dr. David Sachs, director of the Palo Alto Center for Pulmonary Disease Prevention.
One study by British pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome, which is marketing the drug, followed 893 smokers over nine weeks.
It found that Zyban was effective for 49 percent of smokers, 26 percent better than a placebo and 13 percent better than a nicotine patch. Zyban and the patch together worked best of all, with a quit rate of 58 percent.
Quitting was defined as stopping smoking for four continuous weeks. After a year, 25 percent of patients taking Zyban still weren’t smoking.
Researchers believe Zyban affects two chemicals in the brain. The first, dopamine, gives smokers a sense of enjoyment, while norepinephrine is believed to create the discomfort associated with withdrawal.