A World Where Chantix is Prescribed and E-Cigs are Demonized: Bizarro World or a World of Corruption?
I try not to be a hater, but this article is a exception, and I am throwing some serious shade on the folks at Pfizer, maker of one of the most controversial drugs on the market; Chantix. I am making an exception to my general “don’t hate” rule in this case, because it is inexplicably hypocritical that in the United States and throughout the world, the dangerous drug Varenecline is regularly prescribed as a means of smoking cessation, while e-cigarettes are maligned, taxed, restricted, and are actually on the verge of being all but banned or regulated out of existence by the FDA and other regulatory agencies worldwide.
What is Varenecline?
Varenecline is a prescription medication used to treat nicotine addiction (a quit smoking pill). It is referred to as Chantix in the United States and Champix in other countries. After being rushed to market, Chantix has been available for the past ten years by prescription to help those who wish to quit smoking. It is marketed by Pfizer, and is associated with muliple health issues.
In the United States, Chantix was approved by the FDA in 2006 as a means of smoking cessation. Since then, over ten million prescriptions for Chantix have been filled in the United States alone. It is a pill that is taken twice a day at a cost of about $250 per month, and most people use if for 12-24 weeks. We are talking billions of dollars in profits here (I think. Seriously, check my math; I’m a lawyer turned writer so I have no idea, but I know it is a lot). According to the Chantix website, the drug works by binding to the nicotine receptors in the brain, which prevents the nicotine from binding, and also greatly reduces the release of the chemicals that make smoking addictive.
Complaints Related to Chantix Began Immediately Upon FDA Approval
Almost immediately after hitting the market, reports surfaced of unintended and awful side effects, the most serious being extreme psychological disturbances, including thoughts of suicide and violence. By 2007, only one year after it was approved, the FDA had already received more than 5,000 reports of adverse effects. However, numerous scientific studies suggested that people using Chantix, either alone or with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), had higher success rates for quitting smoking. In the case of Chantix, public health officials have effectively argued that smoking is so harmful that quittin,g even by using Chantix, is worth it, in spite of the risk of serious side effects.
Just How Dangerous is This Stuff?
I myself used Chantix briefly in 2007, and it totally worked while I was using it. I started having vivid dreams immediately, however, and after many weeks began to feel that my emotional well-being was being negatively affected (full disclosure; I also got wicked gassy and nasueaus from it), so after an eight week stint, I was off the Chantix and back on the cigarettes. Maybe I was lucky, as ever since 2009, the FDA has required Chantix to carry a “black box warning” (The most serious warning a medication can have and still be sold in the U.S.) that it can cause suicidal or other erratic thoughts, and in 2011, the FDA made a safety announcement that Chantix may cause an increased risk of certain adverse cardiovascular events for people with heart disease.
Yet another warning was issued by the FDA in May of 2015, informing users that some patients experienced decreased tolerance to alcohol, including increased drunkenness, unusual or aggressive behavior, or experienced blackouts. And oh yeah, some people who have never had a seizure before began having them once they started using Chantix.
According to a National Geographic Article in October 2014, in five years of use alone, more than 500 suicides and nearly 1,900 attempted suicides were reported to the FDA in connection with using Chantix, not to mention hundreds of reports of inexplicable violent behavior. In 2013, Pfizer settled 2,700 Chantix lawsuits for $300 million. This was a mere drop in the bucket for them, since first year sales alone of Chantix were $900 million.
In a murder trial in 2014, Army Pfc. George D.B. MacDonald says that Chantix affected his mental health to the point where it lead to his killing of a recruit named Rick Bulmer. During MacDonald’s court-martial, Pfizer resisted turning over documents to the defense team. These documents would include clinical trial studies that were conducted on on the drug. Clearly, Pfizer did not want this information in the public domain. This type of bizarre phycotic behavior has become almost commonplace and is now referred to as Chantix-induced delusional behavior.
In spite of ALL of this; evidence of violent behavior, suidical thoughts, actual suicides, increased heart disease, seizures, and alcohol-related blackouts, the advice given to American doctors from the Pfizer and the United States government is to weigh the drug’s risks against its potential benefits of helping patients quit smoking.
Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game
Is it Pfizer’s fault they get to sell their deadly drug to anyone who wants it, and have doctors prescribe it, while e-cigarettes cannot even be legally marketed as smoking cessation devices? No, it isn’t. But it isn’t fair, either!
Why the difference in attitudes towards vaping, which is not responsible for ONE known death and only a handful of other vaping-related incidents (related to accidental nicotine ingestion and exploding batteries), then towards using Chantix, a drug linked to hundreds of suicides, thousands more attempted suicides, and countless other incidents of violence, aggression, blackouts, seizures, and bizarre behavior? Two reasons. Reason one: because vaping looks like smoking, which makes well-meaning lawmakers and policy experts (and my mother) want to treat it like smoking.
The second is a less palatable reason, but it is a fact of American political life. Who do you think has a more powerful voice in Washington: the prescription drug lobby or the vaping lobby? Pfizer or Aspire? The drug companies are powerful, and have quite a bit of influence over lawmakers. Their influence appears to extend to the FDA itself. Like the tobacco companies and the gun lobby, the drug companies are highly organized and have a lot of sway in Congress. The more e-cigarettes are embraced for their ability to help people quit smoking, the more money the folks at Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and RJ Reynolds stand to lose.
And that folks, is what I hate; not the player, but the GAME! The system is rigged and hard to enter; even if you have a superior product. E-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking in numbers not previously seen, and it is actually keeping the next generation from ever lighting up in the first place. It’s true; more teenagers now use e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes. But it can be done. The more people keep the pressure on to be open and honest about e-cigarettes and their comparative harm not only to smoking but to other methods of smoking cessation, the faster change will come. Until then, Keep Calm and Vape On!
Spinfuel Columnist Julie Selesnick is the president of The Happy Vapor Company. As an attorney-turned-writer Julie brings to the vape community a sharp mind, a strong sense of justice, and the willingness to fight for the rights of those that have chosen vaping to escape the deadly affects of tobacco products.