Medicine can help those who want to quit smoking over months

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KANSAS CITY, Mo --   The thought of quitting smoking cold turkey can be overwhelming.  But many smokers are willing to quit over months.  It's called the "reduce to quit" approach.  New research shows using the prescription drug Chantix can help them quit.

Judi Christensen saw a YouTube video for her homeless outreach called Toms Mission and knew she had to quit smoking.

"I was like oh, my gosh, Judi, you can't even say a whole sentence without having to stop to take a breath.   My husband had passed away from lung cancer.  My mother passed away from emphysema," said Christensen.

She got help quitting at Swope Health Services from K.U. Medical Center researchers.  She got counseling and the pill Chantix.  Christensen used the standard approach.  She started taking Chantix seven days before her firm quit date.   Mayo Clinic researchers wondered if Chantix would also work for people who want to gradually quit smoking.  They reduced their number of cigarettes over three months, then quit and remained on Chantix for three more months.

The study found people on Chantix were about four times more likely to remain smoke-free than those who didn't take it.  Close to a third on Chantix were still smoke-free up to a year later.

A KU Med researcher says the drug blocks nicotine receptors in the brain that make smoking enjoyable.

"That makes total sense that someone would, after a period of using cigarettes and not finding it enjoyable, that they would finally decide hey, maybe it's time for me to quit," said Dr. Nikki Nollen.

Dr. Nollen says smokers should be aware that there is the option of reducing to quit.  Not everyone has to do it cold turkey.  But no matter which approach you use "individuals are much more likely to quit with the help of medication," said Dr. Nollen.

Christensen hasn't smoked in almost six months, and says Chantix made a huge difference.

"The cigarettes just get to where they taste disgusting to where you just don't even wanta smoke anymore," she said.

The study is in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  It was funded by Pfizer which makes Chantix.

Side effects with Chantix include nausea and other gastrointestinal issues.  And there is a black box warning, the strongest drug warning, saying that some people have new or worse mental health problems including thoughts of suicide and attempts.  The K.U. Med researcher says that is rare.

For more information on a local Chantix study for young African American men, call (816) 627-2122 or e-mail Quit2Live@kumc.edu