Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland dismissed the findings of yesterday’s investigation by BBC Scotland on the suicidal effects of a drug used to help smokers quit made by Pfizer.
Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of ASH Scotland said: “The risks of continuing to smoke are certainly far greater than the risks from using any of the stop smoking treatments.”
The BBC’s investigation discovered there have been more than 3,000 complaints on the side effects of Champix® in the UK including 260 reporting suicidal-related reactions. Sixteen people have tried to kill themselves and ten have succeeded.
Duffy added: “Tobacco is a deadly drug. It is highly addictive and lethal, killing one in two of its regular long-term users. Smoking is responsible for 24% of deaths in Scotland each year occuring years earlier than they would otherwise – that’s 13,500 lives lost to tobacco each year.
“Drug treatments like Champix or Zyban are generally considered as options when a smoker has not been able to quit using other treatments. They remain prescription only because there are some contra-indications and because any adverse reactions need to be monitored carefully.”
Pfizer said “additional information on depression, suicidal ideation and suicide, and direct guidance about discontinuation of treatment if these symptoms occur and/or are of concern” was provided in August 2008.
Champix® or varenicline has been on the market since 2006. Pfizer states that 63% of patients who use the drug have successfully quit after four weeks.
Pfizer said: “As indicated in the labelling information for varenicline, stopping smoking, with or without treatment, is associated with nicotine withdrawal symptoms and the exacerbation of underlying psychiatric illness. Depressed mood may be a symptom of nicotine withdrawal. Depression, rarely including suicidal thoughts and suicide attempt, has been reported in patients undergoing a smoking cessation attempt, including patients taking varenicline.”
The drug company has made no statement as to whether they would look further into the case.