Wonder Drug Or Common Crutch? Are Pharmaceuticals The Real Answer To Smoking Cessation?

There may be a fundamental flaw in the idea that smokers can solve their chemical dependency by ingesting a pharmacological concoction. Stop smoking aids and medications have enjoyed a tremendous rise in popularity over the past few years. Perhaps this is an indication of a more health-conscious society; or perhaps it’s simple commercialism. According to studies conducted by the CDC, up to one million Americans stop smoking each year. Other independent surveys suggest that as many as 80% of all smokers express a desire to quit. These numbers represent a clearly profitable market segment for pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, the makers of Zyban. Annual sales of Zyban exceeded $1 billion dollars in 1998 alone. The FDA recently approved a new Pfizer product; a pill called Chantix. The active ingredient in this medication is varenicline, a novel alpha4beta2 nicotinic receptor partial agonist that inhibits nicotine binding but stimulates receptor activity. In simpler terms, this alleged ‘wonder pill’ potentially decreases some of the pleasure derived from smoking; specifically eliminating the relaxation and mild euphoria experienced shortly after finishing a cigarette. Chantix is also reported to significantly ease withdrawal symptoms. Side effects experienced by initial test subjects include severe nausea, vomiting, and headaches. While this doesn’t sound too bad, we should remember that side effects listed for Zyban were also mild after the initial testing, and yet numerous adverse effects such as seizures and severe depression were reported by users once the drug hit the open market. But negative side effects are not the main problem with stop smoking medications like Chantix and Zyban. The real issue is the fact that these products serve as a crutch, and do not actually cure anything. In addition to physical dependency, most smokers also suffer from deeply rooted emotional and psychological addiction. While applying a medication to ease the process of physical withdrawal is certainly helpful, it simply is not possible to take a pill and be suddenly free of your intellectual desire to fire up a cigarette. There really is no miracle cure for the malady of nicotine addiction. Ultimately, a lasting abstinence from smoking is the responsibility of the individual. Bottom line: It’s up to the smoker to come to terms with his/her addiction, and take productive action on the desire to remain smoke free. While this suggestion is not particularly appealing to a society that demands an instant solution to every discomfort, it is an honest assessment of the logistics at hand. Whether or not a smoker decides to take medication during the initial cessation period, the goal to stop smoking must be viewed as a long-term objective that warrants considerable dedication and emotional fortitude.