BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — If 2024 is the year for you to finally give up smoking, scientists say there’s an affordable and effective drug that can help you quit — if you live in the right countries. Cytisine, a plant-based compound, has been helping smokers in Eastern Europe since the 1960s. Now, a team in Argentina has scientifically proven that the drug can more than double the odds of successfully quitting smoking compared to taking a placebo.
Cytisine works by easing the symptoms that occur when a person stops smoking. Initially synthesized in Bulgaria in 1964 under the brand Tabex®, it later expanded its reach to other Eastern European and Asian countries. More recently, in 2017, it was introduced in Poland as a prescription drug, Desmoxan®, and in Canada as an over-the-counter natural health product, Cravv®.
Despite its proven track record of effectiveness and safety, cytisine is unavailable for purchase in many nations — including in the United States. It is not licensed or marketed in most countries outside Central and Eastern Europe, leaving many regions, especially low and middle-income countries, without access to this potentially life-saving treatment.
“Our study adds to the evidence that cytisine is an effective and inexpensive stop-smoking aid. It could be very useful in reducing smoking in LAMI countries where cost-effective smoking cessation drugs are urgently needed. World-wide, smoking is considered the main cause of preventable death. Cytisine has the potential to be one of the big answers to that problem,” says lead author Dr. Omar De Santi in a media release.
Researchers from Centro Nacional de Intoxicaciones (CNI) conducted a comprehensive analysis by pooling the results of eight randomized controlled trials involving nearly 6,000 patients. Scientists consider this type of trial the gold standard in clinical research.
The findings revealed that cytisine significantly increased the likelihood of quitting smoking compared to placebo. Additionally, researchers compared cytisine with other smoking cessation aids. While the results modestly favored cytisine over nicotine replacement therapy, comparisons with another drug, varenicline, did not show a clear advantage for cytisine.
Given its low cost and effectiveness, the study authors say cytisine could be a key resource that increases the accessibility of smoking cessation therapies, particularly in poorer nations. As smoking is a leading cause of preventable death worldwide, cytisine’s potential in tackling this global health issue is immense, although its limited availability remains a significant hurdle.
The findings are published in the journal Addiction.
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