Kōwhai may hold key to quitting

Participating in the Cess@tion study offers a chance to trial a stop-smoking aid that uses an organic product found in kōwhai.

Associate Professor Natalie Walker and Professor Chris Bullen at a table.
Associate Professor Natalie Walker and Professor Chris Bullen are leading the research.

Smokefree May is the perfect time to kick the habit and the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI) invites any smoker who wants to make a healthy change to sign up for a study that will test cytisine, a natural product which has been shown to help smokers quit.

The two-year trial, known as Cess@tion, is funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and seeks 800 participants. Alongside the World Smokefree May theme ‘We’re backing you’, the trial is an excellent opportunity to be inspired by the campaign message: ‘Taituara, taiwhare, taieke: With backing, even the tallest of ocean waves can be conquered.’

Alongside cytisine, the trial will also test the effectiveness of nicotine e-cigarettes in smoking cessation, building on NIHI’s e-cigarette research, says Associate Professor Natalie Walker, who leads the Tobacco and Addiction research group at NIHI. Trial participants will be randomly given cytisine only, nicotine e-cigarettes only, or both.

Cytisine is sourced from and marketed in Eastern Europe but is not yet approved for use in Aotearoa New Zealand. It sits in the same class as Champix, the most effective quit-smoking medicine available. International research indicates it is just as effective but much lower cost and has fewer side effects. As a natural compound, cytisine is found in many plants around the world, including the New Zealand kōwhai tree, giving the product a cultural link to Aotearoa New Zealand. It works by taking the edge off cravings and makes cigarettes less enjoyable, should someone have a puff.

 “Just like any active drug, cytisine must go through a regulatory approval process. The more research that is done, especially locally, the more likely it is to be approved for use in New Zealand,” says Professor Chris Bullen, director of NIHI.

“As with our other studies with cytisine that have showed it is safe, acceptable and effective at helping many smokers quit, we have obtained special approval from Medsafe to use cytisine for this latest study.”

Bullen says the trial will provide valuable insights, enhance the knowledge base, and hopefully progress the regulatory process for cytisine to be approved as a smoking cessation medication in New Zealand and other countries around the world.

“The evidence to date suggests cytisine is an effective and acceptable tool for people to use to quit smoking, while other medicines have been less effective,” he says.

“Joining our study not only helps the individual concerned but contributes new knowledge to support people who smoke in future,” says Walker.

If you, or someone you know, are interested in participating in the trial, visit the Cess@tion website or Facebook page to register or find out more. 

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About the National Institute for Health Innovation

At NIHI, we measure our success by our contribution to improving people’s health in New Zealand and around the globe. We discover, develop, test and deliver innovative approaches to today’s most pressing health problems. Our work is focused on preventing disease, improving people’s health, reducing health inequities and enabling the delivery of more effective and equitable healthcare. We provide independent scientific evidence that supports individuals, communities, clinicians and policymakers.

Supported by The University of Auckland and UniServices infrastructures, we are experts in providing researchers with complex project management, IT, data management and analytics support, delivery of commercial health projects and commercialisation/deployment of health initiatives. Our NIHI team consists of academic researchers who identify areas of potential research, design studies and analyse and communicate the results; project managers who ensure projects are delivered on time, scope and budget; developers who build and maintain our products; data managers who are responsible for reporting and data; and biostatisticians who help us analyse the data we collect.  nihi.auckland.ac.nz