WHO: Two Smoking Cessation Drugs Added to Its Essential Medicines List

The World Health Organization (WHO) updates its Model List of Necessary Medications (EML), a list of medicines deemed essential by WHO experts. This list gets updated every two years.

The list’s objective is to provide national authorities with guidance on the kind of drugs that should be available in their respective countries. The WHO published a new list of the infamous medications on October 1st, 2021.

Chantix

Varenicline, under the trade name of Chantix (Champix in South Africa), is a smoking cessation drug known to help smokers get rid of their craving for tobacco. Though considered to be highly effective, it is also known to cause moderate to severe psychological side effects, from horrific nightmares to suicidal thoughts.

After numerous reports of such effects, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the harshest warning available for the drug. This resulted in a sharp drop in sales of Chantix from $846 million in 2008 to $671 million last year. To make up for this loss, its manufacturer, Pfizer, has invested heavily in advertising and settling lawsuits against the drug. Furthermore, Pfizer has published data extracted from a study that has demonstrated that there is no direct link between the consumption of Chantix and the experience of psychological disorders.

Then, after refusing to lift the warning in 2014, the FDA recently decided to change its mind and drop the warning. The agency requires that the drug list its side effects, and it also specifies that the label states that Chantix is more effective than other smoking cessation therapies. Meanwhile, last June, Pfizer was forced to stop distribution of Chantix and recall some stockpiles after detecting high levels of nitrosamines in the drug. However, next month, the FDA said it would temporarily allow some manufacturers to distribute drugs that contain carcinogens, below the temporary limit of 185 ng per day, until the impurities are present. can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level.craving

Bupropion

On the other hand, bupropion is actually an antidepressant and so can also come with psychological side effects, such as depression and suicidal thoughts.

“This medicine may cause some people to be agitated or display other abnormal behaviours. It may cause some people to become depressed or have suicidal thoughts/tendencies. Stop the medication and seek immediate attention if you notice worsening depression, suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts or behaviour), or unusual changes in behaviour that are not typical of nicotine withdrawal. Contact your provider immediately if this occurs,” read the medication guide.

Interestingly, WHO does not seem to be discouraged by all the possible side effects of these two drugs. However, they remain completely against the relatively safer nicotine products that can be used to quit smoking such as vaping and heated tobacco products, and appear to be less risky than the drugs now on the EML.

"lead to more death and suffering from smoking"

In a recent press release, the Independent European Vape Alliance (IEVA) urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to focus on the future of millions of smokers around the world “rather than its own counter-productive “quit or die” dogma.”.

In discussing the infamous COP9 of the WHO FCTC in Geneva in November, the press release highlights that while WHO continues to support it in other contexts, it overlooks the importance of reducing tobacco-related harm. “There is conclusive evidence that: completely substituting [vaping] for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.” 

Similarly, 100 leading experts in public health and tobacco harm reduction sent the WHO a strong message calling for an end to the war against e-cigarettes and other alternatives to nicotine.

Among the experts were Professor Bernhard Mayer, scientific adviser to the World Vapers` Alliance (WVA), and Dr Colin Mendelsohn, an Australian public health expert, and they emphasised that the anti-vaping approach currently adopted by the WHO “will lead to more death and suffering.”.

WVA Director, Michael Landl said, “100 experts have spoken, and consumers agree that vaping and other methods of tobacco harm reduction must be at the forefront of saving lives. The WHO ignores that fact for the moment, but we’re asking them to listen. 200 million lives depend on it. It is time to end the war on vaping,” 

 
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