Researchers in the Oregon Health & Science University Smoking Cessation Center are studying whether the newly FDA-approved drug varenicline (Chantix) - a drug they recently showed to be more effective than the smoking cessation drug bupropion (Zyban) in helping generally healthy smokers quit - also can help smokers with the devastating lung disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It is a disease that leads to progressive loss of lung function and is primarily a smoker's disease because very few nonsmokers are at risk for COPD. Once it has taken a firm hold, COPD has a debilitating effect on patients' lives, lifestyles and their families. They develop chronic cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing with exertion. Over time, as breathing becomes more and more difficult, the disease limits their ability to be active, and reduced activity further limits their quality of life. While both men and women smokers are at risk for these devastating effects, women smokers are more vulnerable than men.
Gail Cary, 73, Beaverton, Ore., has COPD. She smoked two packs a day for decades before quitting seven months ago with the support of OHSU Smoking Cessation Center staff.
"I always had an ill feeling, felt uncomfortable about smoking. I was careful to hide it, but I coughed a lot and my clothes smelled of smoke," Carey said. "Seven months ago I had a very irregular heartbeat and went to the hospital in am ambulance. I told myself if I get home, the cigarettes are gone. I felt so guilty. Since I've quit, I've felt a lot better emotionally. I'm thinking positively and I don't cough. I'm not going to go back."
"In almost 20 years of working with smokers, I have never had a patient with severe COPD say that they would have started smoking if they knew they would end up with emphysema, unable to get out of a chair unassisted and have to struggle with every breath just to live," said David Gonzales, Ph.D., principal investigator of the OHSU study and clinical investigator in medicine (pulmonary and critical care medicine), OHSU School of Medicine, OHSU Smoking Cessation Center. "Even thought COPD is a chronic and devastating disease, there is reason for hope. This is especially true for those smokers with mild to moderate COPD who may have few, if any symptoms. If they quit smoking, they will dramatically slow the rate of lung function loss compared with those who continue to smoke and many of the most severe symptoms of COPD may be avoided indefinitely in these quitters."
The positive effects of stopping smoking, according to Gonzales, result in immediate and long-term benefits that are particularly pronounced for women. This is one of the reasons the current study of men and women with mild to moderate COPD is so important.
In this one-year double-blinded study, half the participants will receive the FDA-approved drug varenicline and half will receive an inactive placebo for 12 weeks. All participants in the study will receive smoking cessation counseling to help them quit smoking and help them "stay quit" for up to a year.
Long-term smokers 35 years of age and older who are interested in seeing if they may be eligible can call the OHSU Smoking Cessation Recruitment Line at 503 494-0503 or go to