Medicine is no panacea to combat tobacco addiction: experts


The number of smokers attempting to kick the habit with the aid of prescription drugs went up 35% in the five years to 2017, but medicine should not be seen as a panacea, experts say.

Around one third of the Netherlands’ three million smokers attempt to stop every year but just 5% of those who do it without any form of help manage to do so, according to new research by the Dutch medicines agency CBG.

Those who seek professional guidance – now included in the basic health insurance package – have a 20% to 30% chance of success, the CBG research shows.

And despite their growing popularity, the most popular prescription drugs, such as varenicline, have a similar success rate.

‘A success rate of 20% to 30% might seem low, but smokers should not be unduly influenced by this,’ Mark Willemsen of the Trimbos addiction clinic told the AD.

‘We know that smokers need five to seven serious attempts to stop. Smoking is a serious addiction but if you stick at it, you will win.’

Doctor and CBG board member Janneke Belos said she first advises patients to try behavioural therapy, possibly with nicotine replacements.

‘Prescribing other medicines is a last resort,’ she said on the CBG website. ‘They can have side effects and these can be serious.’

The research is based on information from 500 family doctor services, which together are responsible for 1.7 million people, or 10% of the Dutch population.

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