If there were a pill to help you quit smoking, would you take it?
Zyban, the first non-nicotine prescription pill to help people give up cigarettes, now is being heavily marketed by pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May approved the marketing of Zyban, although the drug, bupropion hydrochloride, has been on the market since the late 1980s as the anti-depressant Wellbutrin and Wellbutrin-SR.
Its new use required clinical trials and FDA approval, said Glaxo Wellcome spokesman Bill Chapman. The new name and labeling purposely distinguish Zyban from its anti-depressant predecessor, he said.
“That was one of the reasons why we asked the FDA for a separate name, to make a distinction,” he said. New labeling will make it clear to patients, doctors and pharmacists that Zyban should not be taken by people using Wellbutrin.
How Zyban helps people quit smoking is unknown, though the presumption is the drug affects two brain chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine, linked to nicotine addiction.
That discovery came when a scientist monitoring depressed patients taking Wellbutrin noted that some also quit smoking.
Two subsequent studies of 1,500 people who smoked at least 15 cigarettes daily found that nearly half were able to abstain from smoking during the last four weeks of the seven-week treatment with 300 milligrams of Zyban daily; when treatment included Zyban combined with a nicotine patch, the number of people who quit grew to 58 percent. Also, 23 percent of participants quit using only a placebo, an unmedicated preparation.
Zyban does come with some cautions.
First, Zyban is associated with the risk of seizure: People with seizure or eating disorders should not take it. The most common side effects are dry mouth and insomnia.