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Champix: A worry for smokers

Smoking cessation drug Champix has allegedly been linked to suicide cases across the world.

Smoking cessation drug Champix has been linked to suicide cases across the world by US researchers. Picture: sxc.hu

JOHANNESBURG - A woman who recently started using smoking cessation drug Champix, which has been linked to several suicides, on Tuesday told Talk Radio 702 that she had not been feeling like her "usual self" since she started using the drug last Friday.

The drug has since 2007 been linked to suicide cases across the world and has caused the hospitalisation of dozens of people who have been treated for, among others, aggression, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Most recently, The City Press newspaper reported that South African Air Force pilot Gavin Willard committed suicide by shooting himself in October.

But his daughter Kerrie told the paper that she believed the anti-smoking drug he had been using in the weeks leading up to the incident caused him to take his life.

"My father was not a man who would take his own life," Kerrie told City Press.

"He was a strong and meticulous individual who despised the idea of suicide. The side effects of Champix pushed him to do it."

Mari told Talk Radio 702 she had been smoking about 30 cigarettes per day for about 30 years before her medical doctor recommended she start using it to help her break the habit - it is her second attempt at quitting smoking.

Mari said she does not believe the feelings of anxiety she has been experiencing are withdrawal symptoms, as she is still smoking less than five cigarettes a day.

"I definitely don't think it is withdrawal symptoms, I think it's something more serious than that. I don't know if it is worth it."

Susan from Benoni, east of Johannesburg, told Talk Radio 702 she knew of two friends who had committed suicide after starting to use the drug.

She said neither of them were prone to depression or had the proclivity to commit suicide before.

"Both were very vibrant, happy, people."

Despite officials in America having linked Champix to suicides, drug manufacturer Pfizer said studies linking the drug to suicides and psychiatric side-effects are flawed.

It said a direct link between Champix and psychiatric problems has not been officially made and that nicotine withdrawal can lead to behavioural changes.

Gerhard from Roodepoort, who used the drug, said it worked like a miracle for him.

He said he was agitated for only "three to five days" after starting to use the anti-smoking drug eight months ago.

"I've stopped smoking, I've never looked back and I've never had any suicidal tendencies regarding the drug."

He said friends who also quit smoking with the help of Champix recommended he try it.

Gerhard also joked that people had mentioned he smelt much better since quitting.