Harvard Heart Letter

Stop-smoking drug may be safe

If you have tried to quit smoking, you know how difficult it is. Nicotine is so addictive that smokers often must try multiple smoking-cessation aids and combinations of aids before they are able to break the habit—a critical step for people with heart disease.

Many people have been successful with a drug called varenicline (Chantix), which acts directly on the brain to interfere with nicotine dependence. Doctors recently became concerned when an analysis of existing studies on varenicline published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CAMJ) concluded that the drug posed a significant risk of serious cardiovascular events.

Dr. Nancy Rigotti, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School, is among the many physicians who questioned this conclusion. Dr. Rigotti and her colleagues conducted the largest study on varenicline to date, which was published in Circulation in 2010. The study involved more than 700 smokers with stable cardiovascular disease, who took the drug for 12 weeks. One year later, the research team found no increased rate of heart attack or death from cardiovascular or other cause.

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