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Smoking drug set to be a key option

Trials suggest new smoking cessation drug varenicline is effective and likely to become a key treatment option, the National Prescribing Centre has advised.

Pfizer launched the drug last week as the first non-nicotine medicine specifically designed to stop people smoking.

A review by the centre found varenicline appeared more effective than bupropion or placebo, with quit rates of 44, 30 and 18 per cent respectively in phase III trials.

An additional 12-week booster course after quitting cut relapse rates by 34 per cent over placebo. There is not yet data comparing it with NRT.

New guidance from smoking cessation charity Ash – intended as a stopgap until NICE guidance in mid-2007 – describes varenicline as an 'effective and welcome' option. But it reserved judgment on whether it should be used first- or second-line.

Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the launch, saying: 'The probable treatment of choice would be varenicline. If patients succeed at 12 weeks give them another 12 weeks. That's probably the best we can do.'

Dr Alex Bobak, a GP in Wandsworth, south-west London, who has done research on smoking cessation, said: 'Patients wanting to quit also need motivation and support from NHS Stop Smoking Services.'

Varenicline costs £27.50 per pack, bupropion £39.85.

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