I feel bad for smokers (kind of). They are addicted to what some believe to be the hardest substance to kick. Government bodies across the nation are exploiting this addiction by increasing taxes on these cancer sticks to generate profit.

Pfizer countered, introducing Chantix (varenicline), a prescription medication designed to help smokers quit. The beneits are twofold. First, it binds to the nicotine receptors in the brain so that smoking will have no effect on them, making it less pleasurable. Secondly, it stimulates dopamine release, preventing significant withdrawal symptoms. Since its introduction in 2006, there have been nearly 5 million prescriptions for Chantix filled [Source: Med Page Today].

While I applaud the mass recognition of the detrimental side of this habit, it looks as if there are some significant risks related to this drug. Initially, I was just a skeptic: You can’t quit this addiction with just a drug. While the drug may help the physical cravings, what about the emotional connections? The social pitfalls? 

So, my theory has always been that Chantix provides a short-term solution to a long-term battle. A battle often lost when confronted with emotional, not physical, cravings. My theory takes a backseat to the data I reviewed recently, released by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization that reviewed and reported on the FDA’s adverse drug events report on Chantix [Source: ISMP]. This report has prompted the FAA to assert that no pilot or air traffic controller take this drug, due to its potential side effects. The same precautions are being applied to professional truck drivers as well.

And what are these effects? Just your typical “serious accidents and falls, potentially lethal cardiac rhythm disturbances, severe skin reactions, acute myocardial infarctions, seizures, diabetes, psychosis, aggression and suicide.” Some of these make cigarettes look like penicillin. But we're just talking about a few people, aren’t we? Guess again. The FDA data is downright concerning. During the months of October through December 2007 alone, “varenicline accounted for more reports of serious drug adverse events in the United States than any other drug.” The number was 988, at least 300 more accounts than the next drug on the list, a potent immunosuppressant drug for multiple sclerosis.

Additionally, it's believed that only 1-10 percent of actual instances of serious adverse events are reported. I have seen a lot more people smoking while taking Chantix than I have long-term Chantix success stories. In my experience, quitting cold turkey offers the highest rate of cessation. These are the people dedicated to quitting regardless of how many times they've failed in the past. The mindset of quitting with an “easy” way out (medicine) just doesn’t cut it. Now it seems it be downright dangerous.

All of this said, there are some people who swear by Chantix and how it got them over the hump of nicotine withdrawl. If 39 suicides out of 5 million users doesn't concern you, at least read over a few guidelines for Chantix users:

  1. Understand the risks; mental, physical and the long-term chance of smoking again. Educate a few family members or friends so they can help you monitor any abnormal behavior. Be sure to stop immediately if any concerns arise.
  2. Manage stress. Incorporate regular exercise, breathing exercises or some other method of dealing with tough times. Find an outlet other than lighting up.
  3. Explore alternative avenues that have worked for other people: hypnosis, acupuncture or cognitive behavioral therapy. Use the Internet and other resources to research all available options.