New Study Finds the Best Pharmacological Stop Smoking Solution: (Hint, it’s not what you’d think)

A new study at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared all except one of the current drug treatments that help with quitting smoking. They looked at the following treatments and combined treatments:

  • “bupropion SR (sustained release; Zyban, GlaxoSmithKline), 150 mg twice daily for 1 week before a target quit date and 8 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine lozenge (2 or 4 mg) for 12 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine patch (24-hour, 21, 14, and 7 mg titrated down during 8 weeks after quitting;
  • nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge;
  • bupropion SR plus nicotine lozenge; or
  • placebo (1 matched to each of the 5 treatments).”

Everyone received six 10- to 20-minute individual counseling sessions, with the first 2 sessions scheduled before quitting.

What were the results?

Three treatments worked better than placebo during the immediate quit period: the patch, bupropion plus lozenge, and patch plus lozenge.

At six months, only one treatment was effective; the nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge. The exact numbers , as confirmed by carbon monoxide tests, were: “40.1% for the patch plus lozenge, 34.4% for the patch alone, 33.5% for the lozenge alone, 33.2% for bupropion plus lozenge, 31.8% for bupropion alone, and 22.2% for placebo.”

So we see that the combined nicotine substitution therapy worked best, followed closely by either nicotine substitute alone. Zyban or Welbutrin (bupropion) was a bust, no more effective than the simple nicotine lozenge. The only advantage to Zyban would be if one prefers not to use nicotine substitutes.

Now I mentioned that they omitted one drug treatment, which is the drug Chantix (varenicline). This is probably because the drug is a nicotine receptor blocker, so wouldn’t have made sense to combine with nicotine substitutes. Also, there have been some disturbing case reports of people having severe depressive reactions to Chantrix.

Of course, there was one glaring omission that any card-carrying psychologist would spot in a moment–the lack of a behavior therapy component. Giving 6 ten minute sessions is hardly therapy. I would have liked to see true smoking cessation behavior therapy combined with the drug treatments.

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, combine nicotine patches with nicotine lozenges, sold in any pharmacy. If you do, you have a 40 percent chance of succeeding at 6 months.

Now I am off to have a cigarette….just kidding.


Copyright © 2009/2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions


Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.