Stop smoking? Absolutely. Easy as swallowing a pill? Think again.
A study just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by my colleague Dr. Sonal Singh indicates that Chantix can lead to “increased risk of a major harmful cardiovascular event” by 72% compared to placebo.
“People want to quit smoking to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease but in this case they’re taking a drug that increases the risk for the very problems they’re trying to avoid,” says Sonal Singh, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of general internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead author of the research.
How did they do the study?
Singh and his colleagues reviewed and analyzed 14 double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trials involving more than 8,200 healthy people who received either varenicline (made by Pfizer and sold in the United States under the brand-name Chantix) or a placebo.
Were there warning signs about the heart risks? Yes:
Singh says questions about the drug’s cardiovascular disease risks have been raised since varenicline went on the market in 2006, but no study has clarified the magnitude of these risks to the extent found in the new study. Singh says the FDA used a “fast-track” review process in allowing varenicline to be sold in the United States and would like regulators to take a new look.
Bottom line: Anyone wanting to quit smoking should approach treatments such as Chantix with considerable caution, discuss it with their physician, and consider safer alternatives.
Here is a brief video from coverage on CNN:
Despite claims by Pfizer, Dr. Singh and his colleagues did not “do the math wrong”!
Added July 7:
NOTE NBC Interview with Dr. Singh, July 6, 2011: