Anti-smoking drug backed by health experts

Anti-smoking drug with suicide links backed by health watchdog

Smokers who want to quit should be prescribed a controversial drug that has been linked to suicides, the Governments health watchdog said yesterday.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) recommends all smokers be offered Champix, which trials show can double their chances of kicking the habit.

The team who made the decision said they were being ‘cautious’ because the full side effects are not yet known, but have already said under-18s or pregnant women will not receive the drug.

Christine Owens, from the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, who sat on the committee, said research had shown that the use of anti-smoking drugs at the same time as support to change behaviour was the best way to help smokers quit.

She conceded that the committee was ‘aware’ of the possible link to suicide but added: ‘It is a clinical judgment and [this drug] should not be given to anyone where there are any concerns or people who have suicidal thoughts.

‘However, there is an argument over whether people have suicidal thoughts because they have given up smoking or because of drugs.’

The European Medicines Agency, which licenses Champix, has ordered that a safety warning be included in patient information after officials in America linked the drug to 37 suicides.

A spokesman for Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer, welcomed Nice’s decision and said although symptoms of depression had been reported in some patients taking Champix, no causal link has been established.

He added: ‘Smoking cessation, with or without treatment, is associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric illness.’

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