Smoking cessation success linked to sex difference

Science Spotlight

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A meta-analysis of smoking cessation therapies, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), showed that clinicians should strongly consider varenicline as the first treatment option for women who are trying to quit smoking. Varenicline, a prescription medication used to treat nicotine addiction, was about 1.4-fold more effective than bupropion or the nicotine patch for women, compared to men.

The meta-analysis of several studies compared the success rates of the nicotine patch versus the prescription medications varenicline and bupropion. Women treated with varenicline were 41 percent more likely to quit smoking after six months, compared to women treated with the nicotine patch, and were 38 percent more likely to quit than women treated with bupropion. Among men, the advantage of varenicline over these two medications was not statistically significant. When compared to the placebo, women and men achieved similar outcomes when treated with varenicline.

The authors also discussed how the effectiveness of particular smoking cessation therapies might relate to the sex of the person. For example, research has shown that women metabolize nicotine at a faster rate than men; and fast metabolizers have poorer smoking cessation outcomes with the nicotine patch.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with over 550,000 people dying each year. Medications to quit smoking are available, yet the success rate remains low. These findings should be considered as women discuss with their health care providers which smoking cessation aids might work best for them.

For a copy of the abstract, “Sex Differences in Smoking Cessation Pharmacotherapy Comparative Efficacy: A Network Meta-analysis” published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, go to

More information about nicotine and tobacco research.

NIDA Press Office

About the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to inform policy, improve practice, and advance addiction science. For more information about NIDA and its programs, visit

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