Plant-Based Pill Twice As Effective in Helping Smokers Quit Cigarettes

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Cytisine, derived from plants, might just be the best natural alternative to widely used nicotine patches. 

Yes, you read that right. Plant-based could be the superior option, not just in terms of our diets, but as a smoking cessation aid. Derived from plants, cytisine is a natural alkaloid compound found in the seeds of the golden rain tree, and doctors now say it can be twice as effective in breaking one’s smoking addiction. 

This medicine has already been in use in central and eastern Europe, as well as in Asia, but is not yet widely available around the world. While cytisine recently gained regulatory approval in the UK, it is still not accessible in the US. 

Golden rain tree. Courtesy: Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons

Two-fold cessation rate with cytisine 

The new study, published in the journal Addiction, saw participants on cytisine twice as likely to succeed in quitting smoking compared to the placebo group. The Argentinian research team also tested another drug called varenicline, also known as Champix, as well as traditional nicotine replacement patches and gums. 

“Cytisine increases the chances of successful smoking cessation by more than twofold compared with placebo and has a benign safety profile,” the team concluded. They added that “cytisine may be more effective than nicotine replacement therapy, with modest cessation rates.” 

In total, the randomised controlled trials involved nearly 6,000 patients. 

The lead author of the study, Dr. Omar De Santi, believes that this plant-based compound could be especially useful in poorer countries because of its low cost. 

Low-cost solution 

“It could be very useful in reducing smoking in low- and middle-income countries where cost-effective smoking cessation drugs are urgently needed,” he shared. “Worldwide, smoking is considered the main cause of preventable death [and] cytisine has the potential to be one of the big answers to that problem.” 

Globally, tobacco users are primarily concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. According to data from the WHO, an estimated 80% of the 1.3 billion smokers worldwide live in these countries, where the burden of smoking-related diseases and death toll is also the heaviest. 

Plant-based diets for overall health

Courtesy: Jannis Brandt via Unsplash

Aside from producing the natural compounds that could help smokers kick their bad habits, plant-based diets themselves have also proven to be a powerful tool in protecting one’s health—even if you’re a smoker. 

In 2021, researchers from the University of Glasgow found that vegetarians and vegans had better biomarker scores compared to meat-eaters. Crucially, these findings were consistent despite participants’ weight, smoking and alcohol consumption. 

“As well as not eating red and processed meat which have been linked to heart diseases and some cancers, people who follow a vegetarian diet tend to consume more vegetables, fruits, and nuts which contain more nutrients, fibre, and other potentially beneficial compounds,” explained paper author Dr. Carlos Celis-Morales. 

“These nutritional differences may help explain why vegetarians appear to have lower levels of disease biomarkers that can lead to cell damage and chronic disease.”


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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