Tabex, a low cost medication which contains Cytisine, a nicotine substitute derived from laburnum seeds, triples a person’s chances of successfully giving up smoking, compared to a placebo, researchers reported in NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine).

Tabex has been available in parts of Eastern Europe for over four decades. However, there was not enough evidence demonstrating the medication’s efficacy in smoking cessation.

A trial carried out by researchers from University College London, the Cancer Center and Institute of Oncology, Poland, and the University of Birmingham, England, found that Tabex is not only much cheaper than other smoking cessation products, it also appears to be effective.

Robert West, Ph.D., and team carried out a single-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 740 participants. They were randomly selected into two groups:

  • The cytisine group
  • The placebo group

The participants were administered either a placebo or Cytisine for 25 days. Both groups received a minimal amount of counseling.

The researchers wanted to find out how many participants managed to quit smoking for 12 months after the treatment period was over.

They found that:

  • 8.4% of those in the cytisine group were abstinent from smoking for 12 months
  • 2.4% of those in the placebo group stayed off tobacco products for 12 months
  • In the cytisine group – the 7-day point prevalence for abstinence from smoking at the 12-month follow up was 13.2%
  • In the placebo group – the 7-day point prevalence for abstinence from smoking at the 12-month follow up was 7.3%

The researchers concluded that in this single center trial, cytisine was clearly more effective than placebo in helping people give up smoking.

The authors added:

“The lower price of cytisine as compared with that of other pharmacotherapies for smoking cessation may make it an affordable treatment to advance smoking cessation globally.”

Doireann Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“If you want to live a longer and healthier life, stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do. However, even though it is a major risk factor for heart disease, it can be a challenging habit to break.

Getting professional help to stop smoking increases your chance of success enormously and the results from this latest trial are encouraging. We need some bigger trials first but this pill may yet offer a low cost treatment to help people break this harmful habit.

In the meantime, those looking to quit smoking should speak to their GP about the huge range of proven services that are out there to help.

Cytisine, also known as sophorine or baphitoxine is a pyridine-like alkaloid. Pyridine is a compound that is structurally related to benzene. Cytisine exhibits similar pharmacological effects to nicotine – the two molecules are structurally similar. However, in large doses it can seriously undermine respiration and cause death.

  • The molecular formula of cytisine is C11H14N2O.
  • The molecular formula of nicotine is C10H14N2.

Tabex is sold by Sopharma AD, Bulgaria. It was discovered by the Soviet Union when it expanded its drug research and development to Bulgaria. Russian soldiers called it “fake tobacco”.

The authors believe that cytisine could help smokers in developing nations quit. According to WHO (World Health Organization), most of the six million people who die annually from tobacco related diseases are from developing countries.

Tabex treatment costs between $5 and $17 per month, compared to $100 for nicotine patches and $300 for a 12-week supply of Chantix.

Sopharma subsidiary, Extab has bought the worldwide rights to sell cytisine in developing countries, including India and China.

Written by Christian Nordqvist