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S P E C I A L Tobacco Under Attack

Anti-depressant doubles chance to quit smoking

A lit cigarette October 22, 1997
Web posted at: 10:58 p.m. EDT (0258 GMT)

BOSTON (CNN) -- An anti-depressant has been found to double the chance that smokers can stop smoking, several studies have concluded.

One study, to be published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, showed that more than 20 percent of the people who took the drug as they stopped smoking were still smoke free a year later.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of the anti-depressant last May as an aid to help smokers break the habit.

vxtreme CNN's Rhonda Rowland reports

Some 615 volunteers in the study took either the anti-depressant Zyban or a dummy pill for six weeks. Of those who took the anti-depressant, 23 percent still weren't smoking one year later. Only 12 percent of those who took the dummy pill were able to keep off cigarettes after a year.

And another anti-depressant, nortriptyline, has also been shown to double the chance of quitting.

Why do anti-depressants help?

"People who have a history of depression are more likely to smoke," says Dr. Neal Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco. "Smokers who have a history of depression and quit frequently become depressed when they stop."

Libby Robert

One patient who used anti-depressants as an aid to quit smoking was Libby Robert. CNN first met her last year.

She tried to use Zyban to quit smoking. But unfortunately, she was among those who could not.

"The anti-depressant kind of took the edge off, it kind of helped me to not go back to smoking at the time," she recently said.

But six months later she was back smoking. The anti-depressants had helped, she said, but not enough.

"It's not the complete answer," she said. "It's not a miracle. But it was an aid, it was a help."

Researchers say that the link between smoking and depression is well established. But they say that does not mean smokers who have never been diagnosed as depressed could not benefit from the therapy.

In an accompanying editorial, Benowitz said either of the anti-depressants or nicotine patches or gum probably all work equally well.

"I think that for people who are smokers, this is another option (as an aid to quitting), regardless of their past history," Benowitz said.

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