Compare Varenicline with other stop smoking treatments

We know that smoking isn’t good for our health. So if you’re at the point when you want to quit smoking for good, you should know that you don’t have to go it alone.

You may be wondering what is the best way to stop smoking. Champix and Zyban are two popular non-nicotine prescription medications for supporting people who want to give up smoking. However, while they can both help you to quit smoking for good, they work in different ways. Here we take a look at the differences between them, whether they are as effective as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), and which, if either is right for you.

Active Ingredient
Available doses
Form
Lasts for
Made/marketed by
Pharmacy status
Prices starting at
Works in
Varenicline

Varenicline

varenicline

Generic version of Chantix. Helps you quit by reducing cravings and making smoking less appealing.

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Varenicline
0.5mg/1mg; 0.5mg; 1mg
Tablet
N/a
Generic
Prescription only
CAD143.95
2-12 weeks
Champix

Champix

Varenicline

Daily tablet you take for 12 weeks to help you quit smoking for good.

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Varenicline
0.5mg/1mg
Tablet
N/a
Pfizer
Prescription only
CAD222.95
2-12 weeks
Zyban

Zyban

Bupropion

Slow-release tablet that gives you steady support with cravings. Nine week course.

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Bupropion
150mg
Tablet
N/a
Valeant
Prescription only
CAD403.95
7 weeks
  1. Prices from ca.treated.com for the lowest dose and quantity available
  2. Manufacturers subject to change.
  3. Start and duration of effects are estimations.
  4. For more detailed information on your medication, read the patient information leaflet.
Table of contents
This page was medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical lead on August 02, 2022. Next review due on August 02, 2024.

Varenicline vs bupropion: how to choose smoking cessation medication

Nicotine replacement therapy is usually the first line of treatment recommended for people who want to quit smoking. However, it is not always effective as a standalone treatment and some patients are recommended to try prescription medication instead of or alongside their chosen nicotine replacement therapy. Champix and Zyban both do the same job, but that’s where their similarities end.

Champix is manufactured by Pfizer, and the drug was approved and released as a smoking cessation medication in 2006. The active ingredient is varenicline tartrate. In comparison, Zyban has been around much longer. Manufactured by Valeant and was released as a stop smoking medication back in 1997. However, it was first developed as an antidepressant in the 1980s, owing to the active ingredient in Zyban being bupropion, which has antidepressant qualities.

What are the different types of stop smoking medication?

There are primarily two different types of treatment to help stop smoking. These are nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and prescription medication. Since there are generally fewer side effects associated with NRT, this is usually the first recommendation of any doctor or smoking cessation service.

Nicotine replacement therapy focuses on providing a very low dose of nicotine that doesn’t contain the harmful chemicals that are found in tobacco smoke. Meanwhile, oral stop smoking medications alter chemicals in your brain to reduce the cravings that occur when withdrawing from nicotine. Some also inhibit the reward system in the brain that causes the desire to smoke.

  • Nicotine replacement therapy
  • Prescription medication

Nicotine replacement therapy is widely available from both doctors, smoking cessation services and over the counter in shops and pharmacies. There is a selection of different products to choose from, including skin patches, chewing gum, inhalators, tablets, oral strips, lozenges and nasal and mouth sprays making it simple to find one which suits you best. Many people find that using a combination of NRT products is the best way to quit smoking long term.

Prescription medication for stopping smoking is only available from a doctor. This is because these medications can cause side effects, and you will need to be assessed for your suitability for them before they can be prescribed. You will also be monitored for the duration of the time that you take them. There are three prescription medications that can be used to stop smoking. These are Champix (and the generic version of champix, Varenicline) and Zyban, which are all available as orally-taken tablets.

Varenicline (Champix)

Champix is one of the best known brands of stopping smoking medication. The active ingredient in Champix is varenicline and you will not be able to take this medication if you are allergic to varenicline or any of the other ingredients of Champix. Varenicline is not recommended for people under the age of 18, who are pregnant or breastfeeding or who have severe kidney problems.

Champix works by relieving the craving and withdrawal symptoms that are associated with quitting smoking; it does this by stimulating the nicotine receptors to mimic receiving nicotine. It also reduces the enjoyment of smoking by blocking reward signals from the brain that are released when you inhale nicotine. This means that it could be effective for those who take particular enjoyment from the habit, such as people who only smoke socially.

What are the pros and cons of varenicline?

Varenicline is only available on prescription, meaning that you will need an appointment with your doctor to receive it. A course of varenicline lasts around 12 weeks, which is longer than a course of bupropion, after which time you will need to be reviewed. It may be possible for you to continue with treatment beyond the 12 weeks if necessary.

The biggest advantage of varenicline is that the risk of side effects isn’t as high as it is with bupropion. The longer treatment course also means that your quit attempt could be more successful than after a single course of bupropion.

What are the alternatives to Champix?

As Champix has been recalled by Pfizer for safety reasons, many people are seeking an alternative to Champix. In terms of medications on the market, it can be argued that bupropion (Zyban) is the most similar option. Research suggests that it’s not quite as effective as Champix, but there’s not a great deal in it. A course of Champix lasts for around 12 weeks, whereas a course of Zyban typically only lasts for 7-9 weeks, so you won’t have to take it for as long.

They both work in a similar way in the brain, which is to make smoking less appealing and pleasurable to you.

If you want to go down a different route, though, there’s always nicotine replacement therapy. This is much less of a ‘like-for-like’ replacement for Champix, but it could be a good option for you if bupropion isn’t suitable for you, or if you’ve tried it before and it hasn’t worked.

What does switching from Champix to an alternative involve?

If you’ve been taking Champix and can’t get it any more, or you’ve taken it in the past and want to use a similar treatment, then switching is quite simple. You’ll need to start the new course from scratch to allow your body to get used to the new treatment, which means starting at the low dose before increasing it.

So, for example, if you’re switching from Champix to Zyban, you’ll need to cut down from your current dosing schedule to your new one. This might mean going from four tablets a day to one, which will be necessary for you to become accustomed to the new active ingredient.

Bupropion (Zyban)

Zyban is a popular brand of anti-smoking medication. The active ingredient is bupropion. Although originally an antidepressant, bupropion has been shown to be effective at helping people to quit smoking. Exactly how it does this isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought to prevent the absorption of dopamine and noradrenaline – two chemicals that act as stimulants and pleasure-enhancers. This helps to reduce the feeling of pleasure experienced when smoking, thereby helping to curb the desire to do so.

Zyban is not recommended for people under the age of 18, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people with epilepsy, bipolar disorder or eating disorders.

What are the pros and cons of bupropion?

Bupropion is only available on prescription from your doctor. Treatment courses are usually only around 7-9 weeks long, meaning that you may need more than one to quit smoking.

There is a higher risk of side effects, and patients will need to have their blood pressure monitored during the course of their treatment. However, it is less expensive than varenicline and some consider the side effects of bupropion less severe than those associated with varenicline.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is considered the best way to stop smoking by many ex-smokers. The treatment consists of a range of different products that are designed to provide a small amount of nicotine – enough to curb cravings and lessen the effects of withdrawal – but without the carbon monoxide, tar and other chemicals found in tobacco smoke. NRT products include:

Nicotine patch

Nicotine patches are attached to your skin in the same way as a plaster, and deliver a small, constant supply of nicotine through your skin and into your bloodstream. This slow release reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making you less likely to smoke. They are very discreet and can be worn under clothing.

Nicotine gum

Nicotine gum works by releasing small amounts of nicotine into your mouth as you chew. You then hold the chewing gum between your cheek and gums and the nicotine passes into your bloodstream, providing the hit that you need to keep cravings at bay. Patients are usually advised to chew a piece of gum every 1 to 2 hours for up to six weeks.

Nicotine lozenge

Nicotine lozenges work in a similar way to gum. Patients let the lozenge dissolve slowly in the mouth where nicotine will be released into the bloodstream. It’s essential that you use the lozenges exactly as directed as having too few will prove ineffective, and too many can cause side effects.

Nicotine nasal spray

Nicotine spray is directed into the nose. Once administered, the nicotine passes through the soft lining inside your nose and into your bloodstream. This curbs your cravings and helps to break the habit of smoking.

Nicotine inhaler

Nicotine inhalators provide an instant hit of nicotine that makes them particularly effective for counteracting sudden cravings. Inhalators look a little like plastic cigarettes and contain 15mg of nicotine which is absorbed through the lining of your mouth.

What are the pros and cons of NRT?

One of the biggest advantages of nicotine replacement therapy is that it can be used by the majority of patients, including those under 18 but over the age of 12 (with the exception of lozenges which could only be given after obtaining medical advice). Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised to avoid NRT. It is also readily available from a range of drug stores, meaning that you can get most products without too much cost or inconvenience. The side effects of NRT are largely less serious than prescription medications too.

The only real disadvantages of NRT are that it doesn’t actually lessen the enjoyment of smoking and it still involves the absorption of nicotine, albeit at much smaller doses.

What’s the best way to give up smoking?

There’s no single best way for a heavy smoker to quit. There’s no best way for a social smoker to quit either. Ultimately, what works for one person may not work for another and the treatment that you choose might not be successful right away either. In fact, it can take several attempts or more before you are successful in completely giving up smoking so don’t be disheartened if you don’t manage to quit the first time round. Persistence is key, as is being open to trying different treatments to help you to stop smoking once and for all.

If you are struggling with your quit attempt, you can always contact one of our experts who can offer support and advice.

Get help finding the right stop smoking treatment

If you are ready to stop smoking for good but you aren’t sure which products or medications will be best to help you kick the habit, our experts can help you. We offer a range of stop smoking treatments and we can be on hand to help guide you through the process.

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