Smoking cessation measures even more effective


“Ridiculous,” is what professor Onno van Schayck calls the government’s decision to stop funding smoking cessation therapies. In the meantime, new research has shown how effective something like the anti-smoking tablet can be for smokers selected on the basis of genetic characteristics.

Van Schayck, who is professor of preventive medicine, sent a letter to all members of parliament last Tuesday. On behalf of about twenty organisations, including all important medical associations, he expressed his “grave concern” about the intended measure, which will put an end – already in four months’ time – to the free distribution of anti-smoking tablets, plasters, chewing gum, spray and training.

“It is like cancelling beta blockers for heart patients, completely irresponsible. Also because this cost-cutting measure will eventually cost extra money, if one thinks that about eighty diseases are linked to smoking. Compensation of current therapies amounts to forty million euros a year, a mere tenth of all smoking-related medical costs. Government receives one billion euros of excise duties annually.”

One in twenty smokers stop of their own accord; with the help of quit-smoking therapies, one in five manage to do so. Research by Maastricht PhD student Marieke Quaak, set up by the Caphri and Nutrim research institutes, shows that one in every two may be possible. Her article (to be published) was accepted by the influential journal Addiction last week.

Quaak divided more than two hundred test subjects according to their genetic characteristics. The substance called serotonin, which provides the sense of gratification, remains present in some people’s brains longer than in those of others (who then quickly crave for another kick). The latter group has proven to benefit in particular from the active substance called bupropion, which is also in the Zyban smoking cessation tablet. It extends the sense of gratification and thus helps people to give up smoking.

“The results are so pregnant that we could hardly believe it,” says Van Schayck. “We need to do a control study with more test subjects, the study is embedded in an existing project.” The future will show whether other smokers will gain more from other tablets or plasters or chewing gum. A Q-tip with saliva is enough to discern in the lab which smoker is best served with which means.


Maurice Timmermans

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