Champix is a medicine to help adults stop smoking. The active ingredient in Champix is Varenicline. Champix works by helping to relieve the symptoms of craving and withdrawal when you stop smoking. It does this by blocking nicotine, which reduces the positive influence that cigarettes have on your mood and releasing reduced levels of dopamine (compared to nicotine), which helps reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms. Champix has been created for people who want to give up smoking and are ready to do so, but who haven’t managed to do that without assistance. You usually smoke for the first two weeks of taking Champix, but if you continue after that Champix can also reduce the enjoyment of smoking to help you stop.
Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death in the UK. Around 78,000 people a year die from smoking-related illness in the UK and hundreds more have to live with the effects of debilitating illnesses caused by smoking. If you smoke you are putting yourself at risk for more than 50 serious health problems, some of which are fatal. You are also putting the people around you at risk, as they are exposed to passive smoking – inhaling secondary smoke.
Smoking can cause various types of cancer including lung cancer, throat cancer, bowel cancer, kidney cancer and liver cancer. Passive smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer by about a quarter. In fact, smoking is responsible for 7 out of 10 cases of lung cancer in the UK. Smoking also causes other types of lung damage like COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Emphysema and Bronchitis. It can also cause heart problems, stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
If you are reading this then it’s likely you are thinking about trying to stop smoking. Stopping smoking is no easy task because of the addictive nature of nicotine and the habits you have developed around smoking over the years. You’ll probably need help and there are a variety of organisations, methods, books and medicines out there you can turn to.
A few tips you can try yourself to help you stop smoking:
- Adopt a positive mental attitude. If you have tried before and failed, try to figure out why? What let you down and how can you avoid those pitfalls this time? Get a plan and set yourself up for success. Believe you can do it and focus on why you want to give up? The health benefits are obvious but maybe you also have children or grandchildren and you want to prevent them from inhaling your passive smoke or simply improve your chances of seeing them grow up.
- Plan ahead. Work out when and why you get cravings and have a plan to deal with them. If you know you are going to be in a situation where you are likely to be tempted (social situation?), have a get out clause, plan an escape route. It can help to have an end-goal in mind, aim for 1 month to start with. Mantras can help in tough situations.
- Change what you eat and drink. A US study showed that certain foods, like meat, made cigarettes more appealing whereas cheese and fruit make them taste terrible. The same study also looked at drinks. Drinks like alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks make cigarettes taste better so try to drink more water and fruit juice as this can help lessen the craving for a cigarette.
- Get support. Professional support from your doctor or a stop smoking group, friends and family or others trying to quit. Even your non-smoking friends. Ask for help and tell people what you need from them. It sounds obvious but many hands really do make light work, it’s easier to achieve your goals with good help and support.
There are lots of options out there to help you stop smoking. The main three options are:
- Champix tablets (Varenicline)
- Nicotine Replacement Therapies (patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, inhalators, microtabs)
- Zyban tablets (Bupropion)
See below for more information about how Champix can help you quit smoking.
What is Champix?
Champix is a medicine to help adults stop smoking. The active ingredient in Champix is Varenicline. Champix works by helping to relieve the symptoms of craving and withdrawal when you stop smoking. It does this by blocking nicotine, which reduces the positive influence that cigarettes have on your mood and releasing reduced levels of dopamine (compared to nicotine), which helps reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms.
Champix has been created for people who want to give up smoking and are ready to do so, but who haven’t managed to do that without assistance. You usually smoke for the first two weeks of taking Champix, but if you continue after that Champix can also reduce the enjoyment of smoking to help you stop.
When is Champix used?
Champix is used to support your decision to stop smoking. You will need to be motivated and have a plan in place. It is not a substitute for willpower and to stop smoking you will still need to use as many other resources as you can. It does make the process a bit easier by lessening cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
How do you use Champix?
Before you start taking Champix tablets you should decide on a date that you will quit smoking. This should be between 10 and 14 days after you start taking Champix. Although continuing to smoke after you have decided on a quit date won’t cause any problems with the medication, if you fail to quit on your decided date then your chances of succeeding are reduced. Champix will help as after the two-week period it will lessen your enjoyment of cigarettes. It is worth remembering that every single cigarette you smoke causes damage to your health, so every cigarette you don’t smoke counts. Champix is a tablet that should be taken daily with a glass of water, with or without food. For dosages see below.
Initially, you take tablets every day for a 12-week period. If you have stopped smoking after 12 weeks your doctor may recommend a further 12 weeks of treatment to help you stick with not smoking and prevent a relapse.
If you cannot stop smoking straight away, you should reduce your cigarette intake for an initial 12-week period and then completely stop with a second course of treatment.
What dosages are there?
There are two types of Champix tablets. A white tablet which contains 0.5mg of Varenicline and a blue tablet which contains 1mg of Varenicline. You start with the white tablet and then move on to the blue tablet as time goes on. You should always follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to taking medicines, the general dosage guide for Champix is:
- Week 1, day 1-3: one white tablet (0.5mg) once a day
- Week 1, day 4-7: one white tablet, twice a day, morning and evening at around the same time each day
- Week two onwards: one blue tablet (1mg), twice a day, morning and evening at around the same time each day.
If you experience strong side effects your doctor may decide to reduce your dosage to just the 0.5mg white tablet. Your doctor may also decide to taper off your treatment by reducing the dose towards the end of the course to help prevent withdrawal symptoms. If you accidentally take more than the advised dose, seek medical advice straight away. Do not take a double dose. If you forget to take a tablet, take it as soon as you remember unless there are less than 4 hours until you are due to take another tablet. In this case, you should just skip the forgotten dose. It is important to take your tablets at the same time every day.
What are the side effects of Champix?
Whether you are taking medication to help you or not, stopping smoking can cause mood swings, depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, increased appetite, weight gain and decreased heart rate.
If you are trying to quit smoking and are worried about changes in your mood or depression then you should talk to a doctor or pharmacist, regardless of whether or not you are taking medication to help you.
Like all medication Champix can cause side effects, not everyone will have them. If you are worried about any of the side effects, you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Very common side effects of Champix are:
- Inflammation of the nose and throat
- Abnormal dreams: difficulty sleeping
Common side effects, affecting up to 1 in 10 people are:
- Chest infection
- Changes to your appetite
- Akin rashes
- Joint ache
Uncommon side effects that may affect up to 1 in 100 people:
- Fungal infection
- Blood in your stools
- Night sweats or increased sweating
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety
- Seizures or tremors
- Muscle spasms, chest wall pain
- Increased menstrual flow
- Heart attack
- Suicidal thoughts
- Frequent urination
- High blood sugar
- Flu-like symptoms
Rare side effects that may affect up to 1 in 1,000 people include:
- Excessive thirst
- Severe skin reactions
- Serious allergic reactions
- Seeling unwell or unhappy
When shouldn’t you use Champix?
- Champix should not be taken by people with certain mental health problems as it can cause changes to your mood. Please seek professional medical advice.
- Champix should only be used by adults over the age of 18.
- Champix should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People with severe kidney failure should not take Champix.
- Do not take Champix if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.
- Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery until you know whether Champix makes you tired/dizzy or not.
- Do not take Champix if you are not committed to quitting smoking. It is not a substitute for willpower.
Does Champix interact with other medications?
If you plan to use Champix in conjunction with other smoking cessation therapies, you should discuss this with your doctor first to make sure they are compatible. If you are quitting smoking with or without taking Champix you may need to alter the doses of certain other medicines you take. This includes:
You should avoid taking cimetidine if you have kidney problems as this reacts with Champix and may cause increased levels of Champix in your blood.
You should always tell your doctor or pharmacist about any medication you are taking or have recently taken, including herbal supplements. They will be able to tell you whether it is ok to take both medications together.
Where can you buy Champix?
You can buy Champix from any pharmacy as long as you have a prescription. An online pharmacy, a local pharmacy, supermarket pharmacy etc.
Can I get Champix without a prescription?
No, Champix is a prescription only medicine. You will need to speak to a doctor so they can see whether Champix is suitable for you and give you any necessary advice.
NHS Ten self-help tips to stop smoking (October 2018) Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/10-self-help-tips-to-stop-smoking/
NHS What are the health risks of smoking? (October 2018) Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-are-the-health-risks-of-smoking/
Pfizer Europe CHAMPIX Information for smokers prescribed Champix (April 2018) Retrieved from https://www.champix.co.uk/champix-smoker
Pfizer Europe Package leaflet Champix (August 2018) Retrieved from https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/files/pil.266.pdf
Royal Free NHS Champix (August 2016) Retrieved from https://www.royalfree.nhs.uk/patients-visitors/stop-smoking/treatment-to-help-you-stop-smoking/champix/