New research adds important knowledge about the differences between men and women when it comes to smoking.
In the study, Yale Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) investigators demonstrated, for the first time, that women have a preferential response to a specific smoking-cessation medication.
“It’s been well documented that women have a harder time quitting smoking,” said Dr. Sherry McKee, the Yale-SCOR Director. “And women don’t do as well on nicotine replacements.”
The study, published by the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, found that varenicline, marketed as Chantix, was more effective earlier in women though equally effective in women and men after one year.
“It’s important that the medication works sooner for women, because women are more likely than men to relapse after an attempt to quit smoking, and relapse typically occurs very soon after quit attempts,” McKee said.
“This finding suggests that varenicline can help women get over that hump and offers more evidence for better, gender-specific treatments.”
Cigarette smoking kills 556,000 Americans each year and remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death. Studies have shown that women are more susceptible to tobacco-related health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
McKee’s team found that varenicline was 46 percent more effective in women after three months of treatment, and 31 percent more effective at maintaining complete abstinence after six months.
Researchers analyzed clinical trial data from 6,710 smokers using varenicline for smoking cessation. McKee’s team confirmed many prior clinical trial findings in showing that women were less likely than men to quit when using a placebo.
Unlike nicotine replacement and bupropion (marketed as Wellbutrin and Zyban, among other brand names), which produce lower rates of quitting in women, varenicline produced similar rates of complete abstinence from smoking for men and women.
Each gender reported a 53 percent cessation rate after three months, but when factoring in the lower placebo effect in women, investigators found that varenicline increased the odds of women quitting by 46 percent.
It’s unclear why varenicline is more effective for women, though McKee hypothesized that sex differences in the nicotine receptor system in the brain may be a key factor.
“This really speaks to the whole approach to precision medicine,” McKee said. “We’re supposed to consider individual characteristics when making decisions. And one of the primary factors is that person’s sex.”
Source: Yale University