A new smoking cessation tool is helping Canadians butt out

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In Canada, approximately 19 per cent of the population 15 years and older smoke. Strong evidence suggests that smoking tobacco is related to more than two dozen diseases and conditions including cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and symptoms. In fact, in Canada, smoking is responsible for 45,000 deaths annually, which is more than the total number of deaths from AIDS, car accidents, suicide, murder, fires and accidental poisonings combined.

Most people understand that there are many health risks associated with smoking, but for a variety of reasons they continue to smoke. According to survey results from one of the largest international surveys of smokers’ attitudes towards smoking and smoking cessation, 80 per cent of smokers still perceive smoking as merely a habit. In fact, smoking is not a habit, but a chronic relapsing medical condition that typically involves a physical and psychological addiction to nicotine. Studies have shown nicotine to be as addictive as “hard” drugs such as heroin or cocaine, this because nicotine stimulates the central nervous system and alters brain functioning making smoking a very difficult addiction to break.

For many smokers planning to quit – hoping this time they will butt out for good – there is important information they should know about quitting. Quitting cold turkey can cause terrible withdrawal effects. As this was the only option 20 years ago, patients and their families had to deal with symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, anger, insomnia and poor concentration. Today, with the aid of pharmacotherapy, smokers trying to quit are not only up to three times more successful, but also much more calm and functional during the process. It is for this reason that smoking should be considered like other medical problems such as blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, and treated accordingly. Like these diseases, smoking kills people and can be treated effectively with medicine which certainly makes it much more than a habit. Therefore, it is essential that the doctor-patient dialogue on smoking takes place to ensure smokers are motivated and supported with appropriate advice, tools or medication when they have made the decision to quit.

In addition to nicotine replacement therapies, hypnotherapy, acupuncture and medications such as bupropion SR (Zyban), health-care professionals now have a new tool available to help smokers quit. Approved earlier this year, CHAMPIX is the first smoking cessation treatment to demonstrate a significant long-term relapse prevention effect. In clinical trials, people receiving a 12-week course of CHAMPIX nearly quadrupled the likelihood of quitting smoking compared with those taking placebo, and had nearly twice the likelihood of quitting than those patients taking burpropion, thus making CHAMPIX the most effective medicine created for smoking cessation to date. It is also unique because it is not a nicotine replacement therapy and therefore, does not deliver any nicotine into the body. Instead it works by specifically targeting nicotinic receptors in the brain to reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms. No other treatment works this way.

Despite the many treatment options and information available, most smokers continue to believe that quitting is primarily up to their individual willpower, not seeking counselling or medical help. Despite the need for informed, medical help, the majority of smokers in Canada do not talk with their doctor or health-care professional when trying to quit smoking, even though most believe support from their doctor would greatly improve their chances of quitting. It is important for doctors raise the issue of smoking cessation with their smoking patients. Health-care professionals must ensure patients understand the addiction and are getting the right support if they are going to set patients up for permanent success.

Smoking cessation treatment involves pharmacotherapy and counselling, a necessary combination to a successful quit-smoking program. Fortunately, Canadians have a number of excellent resources available to them including, Health Canada’s www.gosmokefree.ca, as well as local support programs across the country.