Smokers trying to kick the habit have much more success if they begin cessation medication several weeks before quitting, a study finds.

A small clinical trial conducted at the University of Buffalo and other institutions in Buffalo, found that 67 percent of those who took varenicline, marketed as Chantix, for four weeks before trying to quit smoking were more likely to successfully quit smoking than those who took varenicline for just one week before quitting.

Findings were published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

“Varenicline was designed to make smoking less rewarding, and our data suggests that it does that better when people take it for a few extra weeks before quitting,” explained Larry W. Hawk Jr., chief author of the study, and associate professor of psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. “If this finding holds up in larger studies, it could have a major impact on public health.”

The study included 35 women and 25 men, from Western New York. All of them were smokers, with an average age of 48 years old. Each of them smoked a pack of cigarettes per day. Some were randomly selected to take the medicine for one week, which is the way it’s typically prescribed, and others took the medicine one month prior. Each participant then took varenicline 11 weeks after the day of quitting.

“We saw nearly full compliance, which suggests that this is not only a well tolerated therapy, but one people can realistically stick with,”, said Martin C. Mahoney, the studies co-author.

He explains that those who took varenicline for longer periods received mild nausea, but it lessened after a couple of weeks, and improved the groups overall battle with smoking.

“Whether through changes in taste or nausea, it seems this extra varenicline reduces smoking rates before people try to quit”, said Larry Hawk. “These changes should make it easier to quit smoking, but we also know that it takes some period of time for this new learning to occur. That’s why we decided to see if a longer period of treatment with varenicline before smokers tried to quit would result in better outcomes, and it did in this small study,” he detailed.

Researchers also noted that the women who took varenicline for four weeks were more likely to cut back on smoking, due to feeling more nauseous while taking the medicine for longer periods. The women reduced their smoking by 50 percent, compared to the men reduced their smoking by 26 percent during the same period.

“This study suggest we may be able to take the most effective smoking cessation treatment we have and make it work 50 percent better, just by giving the medication for a few weeks before smokers attempt to quit,” Hawk summed up.

The study was funded in part by a 2008 Global Research Award for Nicotine Dependence (GRAND), an independent, investigator-initiated research program sponsored by Pfizer, which manufactures Chantix, and by the National Institute for Drug Abuse.

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