Tobacco, tobacco tobacco

Three recent articles on tobacco. First, The Boston Globe reports on the effectiveness of pharmacological treatments for nicotine addiction. The article presents a pretty pharmacological treatments as an essential part of a smoking cessation plan.

Philip Quartier, a 64-year-old stockbroker from Mission Hill, had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 45 years when he quit for the first time. After five clean years, an impulse led him to pick up another cigarette eight months ago, and the biking enthusiast, who has lung disease, was frustrated to be back to his old habit.

Determined to quit for good, he dug out the subliminal motivation tapes he’d used the first time around, went back on the nicotine patch, bought a self-help book, and joined a counseling group, but several months into the process, he was getting nowhere. So in November, he got a prescription for Chantix (varenicline), a six-month-old drug that is the first new quit-smoking treatment in a decade.

The pills don’t work for everyone but quickly diminished Quartier’s cravings. “By the eighth day I was absolutely ready” to give cigarettes up again, he said.

Though most smokers try to quit without help, nicotine-free treatments including Chantix and longtime staples like nicotine gum and patches are more effective than trying to quit “cold turkey,” according to experts and research.

Next, Dr. Wes questions the federal push toward pharmacological treatments and provides some compelling arguments:

Well it seems that nicotine patches are now part of the federal guidelines regarding smoking cessation issued by the Public Health Service, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. But an interesting twist to these guidelines was revealed yesterday (WSJ, subscription):

(Doctor) Michael Fiore is in charge of revising federal guidelines on how to get smokers to quit. He also runs an academic research center funded in part by drug companies that make quit-smoking aids, and he personally has received tens of thousands of dollars in speaking and consulting fees from those companies. … Dr. Fiore, a University of Wisconsin professor of medicine, headed the 18-member panel that created those guidelines. He and at least eight others on it had ties to the makers of stop-smoking products.

Those opposed to urging medication on most quitters note that cold turkey is the method used by the vast majority of former smokers. They fear the federal government’s campaign could discourage potential quitters who don’t want to spend money on quitting aids or don’t like the idea of treating their nicotine addiction with more nicotine.

“To imply that medications are the only way is inappropriate,” says Lois Biener, a senior research fellow at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who has surveyed former smokers in her state. “Most people don’t want them. Most of the people who do quit successfully do so without them.”

What is interesting is the way the government makes these recommendations: based on clinical trials. And who is better equipped to perform clinical trials than drug companies? (Bias 1). Further, all of the individuals in clinical trials must sign consent, and therefore have to be willing to take a drug (Bias 2). So these “clinical trials” are, by their very nature, skewed toward those willing to take a drug.

But in the interest of revealing effectiveness of these smoking cessation drugs in the real world, another type of study, an observational population trial that looks at all comers to the smoking cessation party, found this:

Studies of quitters outside clinical trials have shown no consistent advantage for medicine over cold turkey, the pharmaceutical industry’s primary competitor. An unpublished National Cancer Institute survey of 8,200 people who tried quitting found that at three months, users of the nicotine patch and users of bupropion (Wellbutrin) remained abstinent at higher rates than did users of no medication. But at nine months, the no-medication group held an advantage over every category of stop-smoking medicine. The study was presented at a world tobacco conference last summer.

Finally, a recent Biological Psychiatry commentary addresses the links between alcohol and nicotine addiction, including the genetic links, shared neurobiological mechanisms, shared behaviors and treatment.

Epidemiologic data confirm that: (1) heavy drinking may stimulate smoking; (2) cessation of smoking may enhance abstinence from alcohol; and (3) combined treatment for dual addiction may achieve the most beneficial treatment outcome.

One thought on “Tobacco, tobacco tobacco

  1. Interesting article but many of us were aware of this “news”. I would like to have seen verification on the advantages of counseling along WITH the drugs, which is a must. The medications alone rarely work; that’s possibly why we keep hearing the “statistic” that it takes the average smoker 5-7 times to quit. The drugs or the nicotine “replacement” give a false sense of security. Unless you learn to change lifestyles and build lifeskills, you will likely need to take the drugs for life (as one might need to do for high blood pressure).

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