Rather than increase the rate at which Americans successfully quit smoking, varenicline appears to have had no significant impact on the rates of smoking and the effectiveness is short-lived compared to other cessation aides. Findings from this research have been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

Shu-Hong Zhu, PhD, from the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues analyzed U.S. Census Bureau surveys of smokers aged ≥18 that were conducted in 2003 (before varenicline was approved as a smoking cessation aid in the U.S.) and 2010–2011. The surveys sought to gather data on over 39,000 smokers and their efforts to quit smoking in the last 12 months based on use of nicotine replacement therapies like the nicotine patch, gum, and lozenge, as well as use of prescription medications like bupropion and varenicline.

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Overall use of pharmacotherapy increased from 28.7% of smokers trying to quit in 2003 to 31.1% in 2010–2011. However, in 2003 approximately 4.5% of smokers reported that they had successfully quit smoking for at least a year compared to 4.7% in 2010–2011. The positive effect was also short-lived, lasting for three months, after which time varenicline users no longer had higher rates of success.

“We had hoped the new pharmacotherapy would help more people quit, but this is not what is happening,” said Dr. Zhu in a statement. “Instead, varenicline is replacing other options like the patch, without having any significant population-level impact on quitting success.”

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