Study: Nicotine Patch Works as Well as Chantix to Help Quit Smoking

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have found similar rates of success among people who tried to quit smoking using one of 3 treatments – a nicotine patch, a combination of a nicotine patch and nicotine lozenges, or the prescription drug Chantix (varenicline). A year after trying one of the methods, about 20% of the people in each treatment group had successfully quit. The study was published online January 26, 2016 in Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study consisted of 1,086 smokers who wanted to quit and were randomly assigned to one of the 3 treatments. All participants were offered counseling. After 6 months, 23% of those in the nicotine patch group had quit compared to 27% in the patch + lozenge group, and 24% in the Chantix group. After 1 year, 21% in the nicotine patch group had quit compared to 20% in the patch + lozenge group and 19% in the Chantix group. The slight differences between groups were considered too small to be significant.

According to the authors, nicotine patches and lozenges can be easier for potential quitters to get and use because they usually cost less and don’t require a prescription. In addition, people with certain health conditions are not able to use Chantix.

“This study confirms that FDA-approved medications are effective in helping smokers quit,” said Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society director of tobacco control research. “Smokers should seriously consider using medications if they are finding it difficult to quit without any help. The most effective approach to quitting is using medications in combination with counseling such as from a quit-line.”

Quit-smoking medications

Research shows that using a medication to help you quit smoking can double your chances of being successful.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 7 medications to safely and effectively help people quit smoking. Choosing which one to use is often a matter of personal choice and should be discussed with your pharmacist or health care provider.

Three of these medications are available over-the-counter at most pharmacies and can be helpful in easing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal when used as directed.

  • Nicotine patches
  • Nicotine lozenges
  • Nicotine gum

Four other medications are available by prescription.

  • Chantix (varenicline) – a drug that blocks the effects of nicotine in the brain
  • Zyban (bupropion) – an antidepressant
  • Nicotine inhalers
  • Nicotine nasal sprays

Keep trying

Quitting smoking is hard, mostly because nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is so addictive. It’s as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Most smokers have to try more than once before quitting successfully. Getting counseling combined with medication makes it even more likely than using medication alone that a smoker can quit for good.

And quitting is important. Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. In addition to cancer, smoking greatly increases the risk of debilitating long-term lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It also raises the risk for heart attack, stroke, blood vessel diseases, and eye diseases. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will eventually die from a smoking-related illness.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Effects of Nicotine Patch vs Varenicline vs Combination Nicotine Replacement Therapy on Smoking Cessation at 26 Weeks. Published online January 26, 2016 in Journal of the American Medical Association. First author Timothy B. Baker, PhD, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, Wis.

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