Drug doubles quit rate of smokers

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The Independent Online
A CHANCE observation by a psychiatrist has led to the discovery of a new drug for smokers that is twice as effective as nicotine patches in helping them to quit.

Zyban is an anti-depressant that has the unusual side effect of reducing the craving for nicotine. When given to smokers trying to give up, it doubled the number who were still not smoking after one year compared with those who used nicotine patches alone.

The discovery of Zyban's action was made six years ago by Dr Linda Ferry, an American psychiatrist at the Loma Linda University, California, who noticed that patients she was treating with the drug seemed less inclined to smoke.

Her observation was greeted with scepticism by colleagues but she conducted a pilot study published in 1994, which appeared to confirm her hunch. She has since continued to press for recognition of the drug as a smoking cessation aid. Yesterday that recognition came in the shape of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine of 900 smokers who tried to stop.

Of those given a nicotine patch 16 per cent were still not smoking a year later. But the figure rose to 30 per cent of those treated with Zyban.