New guidance will restore confidence & save lives: ASH backs Zyban

Friday 01 June 2001


Immediate Release: Friday 1 June,  2001


New guidance for Zyban should restore confidence and save lives


The anti-smoking drug Zyban will be a lifesaver, literally, for many smokers ­ and we want to see it widely but carefully used. Over 400,000 people have now used Zyban in the UK and over 5 million worldwide ­ and it at least doubles the chance of a successful quit.  We have been concerned that negative publicity surrounding its first few months in the UK may be putting off smokers who could benefit from it.  Overall that could have a negative effect on health if it means that more smokers continue to smoke.  New guidance from the medicines regulator should restore confidence and ensure the product is properly and carefully used.


Clive Bates, Director of ASH said:


“For some people Zyban will be the drug that saves them from cancer, heart disease, stroke or serious lung illness.  There is nothing more dangerous than continuing to smoke, and any drug that can help people quit should be promoted heavily and widely but carefully prescribed. The biggest risk, by a very long way, is continuing to smoke.


“Zyban is a powerful and complex drug and should be used with care. I hope that the new guidance will ensure that GPs and patients treat it with respect and use it properly.


ASH pointed out that although there are some serious side effects associated with Zyban, these are rare if the drug is prescribed and used properly, and that many common drugs have a similar profile of potential side effects. Bates said:


“The vast majority of Zyban users will not experience any nasty side-effects. But there are risks associated with almost every drug, and for Zyban these have to be weighed against the huge benefits of stopping smoking.


“For some people use of Zyban will not be appropriate, but these smokers can still make use of nicotine replacement therapies, like patches and gum.  It is always more effective to use some sort of pharmaceutical therapy to help with quitting.


Many of the press stories of people dying or becoming ill from use of Zyban are based on a misunderstanding of the drug surveillance process, which is always used when a new drug is introduced in the UK. The authorities monitor all adverse events among people using the product, but that does not mean these were caused by Zyban. Given that Zyban users are smokers, there are always going to be sudden deaths from heart attacks or strokes that will appear in the figures ­ but these may be due to smoking or to entirely different causes, rather than to Zyban.


“It would be a health disaster if hype and misunderstanding meant that people were put off Zyban for the wrong reasons.  It is important to retain a sense of proportion about Zyban and recognise that any risks are small and that the potential benefits are huge.


[1] ASH does not offer medical advice… Zyban should be used under medical supervision. New guidance from the Medicines Control Agency, Committee on Safety of Medicines: introduces new precautions and contraindications, identifies potentially dangerous drug interactions, and stresses that careful adherence to the existing guidance relating to seizure history is essential. (See officialguidance PDF on


Contact Clive Bates: 020 7739 5902