Nicotine substitute cytisine effective at helping smokers to quit
Nicotine substitute cytisine (sold as Tabex) has been shown to more than triples a person's chances of quitting smoking for at least a year.
Cytisine, readily available in central and eastern Europe for 40 years, is cheap alternative to similar medication and available for as little as 12p a tablet.
Professor Robert West, lead author from Cancer Research UK's Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, says that cytisine could save the NHS millions of pounds a year if it was to be licensed in the UK.
The trial, which was funded by the National Preventative Research Initiative, a consortium managed by the Medical Research Council, found that people who wanted to kick the habit were 3.4 times more likely to succeed with cytisine than with a 'dummy' placebo tablet.
A total of 740 people took part in the trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that, of those who had received cytisine, 8.4 per cent were able to stop smoking for a year compared with 2.4 per cent of those who were given the placebo.
Researchers said the low overall success rates were a demonstration of how hard it is for even motivated smokers to give up smoking.
Professor West said: "With more than a billion smokers worldwide and lung cancer still as one of the top killers, we're extremely encouraged that the benefits of Tabex are comparable with those of nicotine patches, but at a fraction of the cost."
"We recognise that stopping smoking can be extremely difficult and we hope that by using cytisine as a substitute for nicotine, the results of this trial could help transform the health of nations around the globe by offering a practical option even for the poorest smokers."
Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, was also optimistic about the results.
She said: "It's great news that smokers around the world may have access to a new way to help them beat their addiction. When so many smokers are trying so hard to give up it is ridiculous that tobacco companies are still able to market their deadly products in ways that draw young people into smoking."
"We hope that cytisine will help low and middle-income countries meet their obligations to help treat nicotine dependence under the World Health Organisation's treaty on tobacco."
Copyright Press Association 2011