Quit smoking medicine ‘varenicline’ was found to be three times more effective in helping pregnant women stop smoking than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) patches in a first of its kind study.

Researchers from the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), at UNSW Sydney, analysed data from the birth records of 120 pregnant women who smoked at the beginning of pregnancy, and compared the rates of quitting for women using these two medicines.

Lead researcher, Dr Alys Havard said; “This study highlights that varenicline is more effective in pregnancy than NRT patches, where NRT is currently the only smoking cessation medicine recommended for use during pregnancy.”

The study calls for further research on the safety of varenicline during pregnancy.

“Varenicline is not currently recommended for use during pregnancy because of a lack of evidence regarding its safety when used by pregnant women. While we have previously shown that varenicline does not increase the risk of adverse birth outcomes such as premature birth and small baby size, we still don’t know enough about rare but serious outcomes like stillbirth and birth defects,” said Dr Havard.

“Further studies are needed to corroborate these results, with evidence regarding the relative benefit of varenicline and NRT during pregnancy important for informing clinical decisions for women smoking during pregnancy.”

Smoking during pregnancy is a significant, yet preventable, risk factor for pregnancy complications and neonatal harms.

“There is a necessity for effective smoking cessation strategies for pregnant women, especially as we know that three-quarters of pregnant smokers make at least one attempt to quit, but less than one-quarter succeed,” said Dr Havard.

Varenicline is a partial agonist of the nicotine receptor, stimulating dopamine release to reduce withdrawal symptoms while simultaneously blocking nicotine from binding to the receptor.

“Varenicline is also known as Champix and works by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as blocking the satisfaction associated with smoking a cigarette.”
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