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Chantix is taking a real beating this month. First the FDA issues a warning based on cases of irritability, anxiety and even suicidal thinking that have been linked to Chantix use. Since patients with mental disorders were not studied before the drug was approved, there is concern about how patients with psychiatric problems will react to the drug. There is also the matter of a range of other side effects from seizures to accidents to drowsiness. The FAA recently said that pilots and air traffic controllers shouldn't take Chantix.

More than 6 million people have been prescribed Chantix, but all these reported side effects have led to a drastic decline of Chantix prescriptions by more than 50%. This is particularly concerning when you consider that the reports of side effects are based on isolated cases and no studies, smoking is a massive killer and Chantix is an effective treatment which works in over a third of patients.

When a person stops smoking, the body's levels of carbon monoxide decrease dramatically, smell and taste improve, and coughing lessens. The risk of pancreatic and esophageal cancer decreases almost immediately. A year after quitting, the risk of heart disease is cut in half. Quitting for 10 years cuts the risk of lung cancer in half.

Since smoking 25 cigarettes per day has been studied and found to be associated with three times greater death rates than normal, it is worth comparing this statistic with what the actual risk of Chantix is.

I do not take reported side effects lightly. But they must be studied. In the meantime, I am still willing to prescribe Chantix. I am much more concerned about the growing irrational fear against an effective treatment for a massive killer (cigarettes), than I am fearful of the drug itself.

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear

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