Champix, a prescription drug that reduced the urge to smoke, is the newest tool available to help smokers kick the habit.
What is Champix?
Champix (varenicline tartrate), known as Chantix in some countries, is a prescription medicine to help people stop smoking by reducing the urge to smoke. It became available in South Africa in 2011.
How does it work?
It attaches to nicotine receptors in the brain, and blocks nicotine from reaching them.
Who can use Champix?
Champix is available to smokers over age 18, but make sure your prescribing doctor knows your medical history and any other prescription and non-prescription drugs and dietary supplements you’re taking. Also be sure to mention if you are using any other chemical smoking cessation methods (these shouldn’t be continued while on Champix), and whether you have experienced smoking withdrawal symptoms previously.
Depending on medical conditions you have had, it may not be advisable for you to take Champix, or you may need to take a reduced dose. For example, Champix may not be suitable for you if you have had mental health problems like depression, heart disease or kidney disorders. It is also not yet recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
How do you take Champix?
1. Choose a Quit Date.
2. Start taking Champix 7 days before your Quit Date. This lets the drug build up in your body. You can keep smoking during this time, but aim to stop smoking on your Quit Date. If you backslide, try again. Some people need a few weeks for Champix to work best.
3.Take Champix for 12 weeks. Even if you have stopped smoking at the end of that time, ask your doctor if another 12 weeks of Champix may help you stay cigarette-free.
How much does Champix cost?
About R700 (before pharmacy mark-up) for the 12-week course.
How popular is Champix in South Africa?
According to its manufacturer, Pfizer, Champix has become the leader in the prescription market for smoking cessation.
What about side-effects?
Champix has been associated with various side-effects, and these have received a lot of attention in the overseas media.
The most controversial reported side-effects are those relating to mental disturbances: Some people have had changes in behaviour and mood, including hostility, agitation, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions while taking Champix. If you or those close to you notice any marked changes in behaviour or mood, stop taking the drug and call your doctor immediately.
In fact (and this always applies to any new medication): report any changes to your doctor without delay. Champix has also been linked to various other physical side-effetcs, including allergic skin reactions, which are potentially serious in some people.
All medications have potential side-effects, and it’s important to discuss with your doctor whether these outweigh the negative effects of smoking on your health, and whether you would do better on an alternative smoking cessation method.
- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, November 2011
If you have questions about Champix, or would like to share you experience of using it, please post on the Stop Smoking Advice forum.
Pfizer, pers comm. 2011
Pfizer, Varenicline package insert. 2011