Anti-Smoking Pill Effective

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — The anti-smoking pill Zyban could help even some of the most hardcore smokers — those who can't stop, despite being sick with a debilitating lung disease, new research suggests.

Studies have shown the drug can help up to 30 percent of average smokers stay off cigarettes for at least a year. But the medication has never been tested in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a smoking-induced lung illness that the World Health Organization estimates affects 600 million people worldwide and kills about 3 million every year.

Experts say that about 60 percent of those with the condition, known as ``smoker's lung,'' continue to smoke and that quitting tobacco is the only thing that has been shown to halt or slow its progression.

The findings, presented Friday at the World Congress on Lung Health, showed that taking the drug almost doubled the chances of quitting, from 9 percent to 16 percent.

``They almost doubled their chances of giving up. That's about the same chance as smokers in general,'' said Dr. Donald P. Tashkin, a professor of pulmonology at UCLA and leader of the study.

The study was funded by Glaxo Wellcome, the drug's maker.

Dr. Pierre Bartsch, professor of lung medicine at the University of Liege in Belgium, said the findings are important because people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have the most difficulty giving up smoking, which is their only chance of retarding their disease.

``Of course the results show a much lower success rate than in the general population, but these are people who were smoking almost two packets a day for 25 years,'' Bartsch said. ``It's important to show that something can help these patients give up.''

It probably wouldn't be a good treatment for those with the advanced stage of the disease — about 40 percent of all those with the illness — because it may not be a good idea to mix the drug with the other drugs those patients use, Bartsch said.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease causes gradual, irreversible damage to the lungs, and encompasses such diseases as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

It afflicts about 15 million Americans and kills about 100,000 of them a year, according to the American Lung Association. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, involved 411 people about 54 years old from across the United States who had the lung illness and smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day.

All had mild or moderate stages of the disease, where patients cough, wheeze and feel breathless but don't yet need inhalers to help them breathe. Most had tried various methods to stop smoking in the past.

For 12 weeks, half were given the drug twice a day, while others were given fake pills. They also got counseling.

When the treatment ended, 18 percent of those on the drug had not inhaled a single puff of tobacco, compared with 10 percent of smokers on the fake pill.

Three months later, 16 percent of those on the drug had stayed off cigarettes, compared with 9 percent of those not getting the medication.

Scientists verified that the smokers had quit by testing their breath for traces of carbon monoxide.

The number of people abandoning the medication early was about the same in both groups — 2 percent. Those on the drug reported temporary insomnia at the beginning.

Zyban costs about $60 per month. It has been available in the United States since 1998 and is currently being launched across Europe.