New drug being tested may help people quit vaping

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

Much like smoking cigarettes, for some, vaping may become a habit that is tough to quit. But a new product being tested may be able to help people who get hooked.

According to the National Institute of Health, more than 5.6 million American adults vape,
meaning they use an electronic device to inhale nicotine and flavored vapors. Researchers are now conducting a clinical trial of a plant-based product that has been tested on cigarette smokers to see if it helps people addicted to vaping.

Michael Werner was a college student when he started vaping almost every hour. He quickly found himself addicted to the nicotine but hated how vaping made him feel.

“I would sometimes hit it in the middle of the night if I happened to wake up,” Werner said. “It makes it hard to really fully be in the moment unless you’re using your device in that moment.”

Dr. Nancy Rigotti is the director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. After years of tobacco use being on the decline, one in 10 young adults between ages 18 and 24 now vape.

“Some of them are able to quit, but a lot of them are having trouble,” Rigotti said.

Rigotti and her colleagues use text messaging, behavioral counseling and medications to help young adults who want to quit nicotine. Now, they are testing a medicine called cytisinicline, made from a plant by the same name.

“The drug itself is very similar to one of our smoking cessation medicines that’s called varenicline or chantix,” Rigotti said. “And so, it has a similar effect, but it has fewer side effects, is what we’re seeing.”

Cytisinicline is thought to block the rush from nicotine and reduce withdrawal symptoms.
Werner finally quit by weaning himself from his vape. He works now as a clinical research coordinator helping others kick the nicotine habit.

“I’ve spoken with a lot of folks who are in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and they will tell me time and time again, this is the hardest drug to quit,” Werner said.

Researchers are hoping that after clinical trials they’ll have one more option for vapers trying to quit. Rigotti says this drug has been tested in cigarette smokers, and a series of trials show it is effective in helping quit nicotine. For that reason, she says the drug may be closer to FDA approval for cigarette cessation than vape cessation.

Rigotti says the side effects include some nausea, headaches and vivid dreams, but most people who have taken it have tolerated it. The drug has been available in Eastern Europe for years for smoking cessation, but not in the U.S.

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