SYDNEY—A new pill designed to help smokers kick their habit could hit the Australian market before the end of the year.
But experts are divided on the benefits of Champix, with some hailing it an "exciting development" and others warning that it is no magic bullet.
The tablet medication has already been given market approval and has now won initial approval to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
If given the final sign-off for a federal government subsidy, it could be launched "before Christmas", drug company Pfizer says.
Champix would be the third pharmaceutical therapy available for smoking cessation, joining the drug Zyban and nicotine replacement treatments like patches and gum.
It works by stimulating the same receptors in the brain as nicotine, relieving the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of those giving up.
A study published earlier this year concluded that those who take the drug were three times more likely to still be smoke-free after one year compared to those who took a dummy pill.
Professor Renee Bittoun, the director of the Smoking Research Unit at the University of Sydney, said it worked on an entirely different part of the brain to Zyban, the only other nicotine-free pharmaceutical on the market.
For this reason, smokers who have tried but failed on Zyban may have success with Champix, Prof Bittoun said.
"It works on a very specific area of the brain and if this happens to be the area of the brain that you might respond to then it's really very, very helpful," she said.
"So it's not a question of whether you're motivated to give up or not - it will either flick the switch or it won't."
"In this sense it could be a magic bullet."
But Simon Chapman, a professor in public health at the University of Sydney, cautioned against such enthusiasm.
"Many smokers have an elevated, unreasonable level of expectation about what smoking cessation drugs can do for them," Professor Chapman said.
"The truth is the success rates are never as good in real life as the clinical trials show.
"And it's not easy. Smokers have still really got to want to quit."
The drug, known generically as varenicline, is already available in the UK and US.
The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee gave it approval in January but Pfizer says it wants to launch the product in co-ordination with a listing on the PBS.