When smokers aren’t ready to quit cold turkey, there is a path to achieve smoking cessation goals by using a drug to help gradually reduce cigarette consumption, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Since there is no safe level of cigarette consumption, current guidelines recommend that smokers quit abruptly to prevent serious health complications. The problem is that only 8% of smokers report being ready to quit in the next month. To address this issue, researchers tested the use of popular smoking cessation aid varenicline, sold under the brand name Chantix, in smokers who want to eventually quit but aren’t ready to kick the habit today.
Varenicline is a prescription medication that helps reduce nicotine cravings and decrease the enjoyable effects that nicotine has on the body. Although many studies have shown that varenicline helps smokers succeed in their quit attempts, less is known about the impact of this drug in helping smokers gradually cut back on the habit until they fully quit.
More than 1,500 smokers participated in the recent study. All participants were not willing or able to quit in the next month but wanted to reduce smoking and try to quit within three months. After enrolling between 2011 and 2013 at one of 61 centers participating in this study, these individuals were told to reduce their cigarette consumption by 50% in the first four weeks, 75% or more at eight weeks and to try to quit within the first 12 weeks. For the first six months of the study, half of participants were randomly assigned to take varenicline while the other half took a placebo pill with no active ingredients. Researchers then followed participants for up to seven months to see how many smokers ultimately quit.
After analysis, researchers found that individuals taking varenicline were more than four times more likely to quit within six months than those taking the inactive pill. And nearly one-third of smokers taking varenicline were smoke-free after a year, compared to just 10% of individuals who took the placebo.
Based on these findings, authors believe varenicline is a possible treatment option for smokers that want to gradually kick the habit rather than quit cold turkey. Although quitting smoking entirely is most beneficial when it comes to health, the reality is that most smokers need time to prepare for quitting. Findings suggest that taking varenicline while following a gradual quitting plan may be the best possible way to help the majority of smokers kick the habit for good.