The Comparative Effectiveness of Varenicline and Nicotine Patches for Smoking Abstinence During Pregnancy: Evidence From a Population-based Cohort Study

Stephanie K.Y. Choi, Duong T. Tran, Anna Kemp-Casey, David B. Preen, Deborah Randall, Kristjana Einarsdottir, Louisa R. Jorm, Alys Havard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


INTRODUCTION: In the general population, varenicline is consistently shown to be more efficacious for smoking cessation than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Current clinical guidelines for the management of smoking during pregnancy recommend against the use of varenicline, whilst supporting the use of NRT. However, little is known about the comparative effectiveness of these smoking cessation therapies among pregnant women. AIMS AND METHODS: Routinely-collected records of all births in two Australian States during 2011 and 2012 were used to create a population-based cohort of women who smoked during the first half of pregnancy. Pharmaceutical dispensing data were used to identify varenicline and nicotine patch dispensings in the first half of pregnancy. Propensity score matching was used to account for the potentially different distribution of confounding factors between the treatment groups. The outcome was defined as smoking abstinence during the second half of pregnancy. RESULTS: After propensity score-matching, our cohort comprised 60 women who used varenicline and 60 who used nicotine patches during the first half of pregnancy. More varenicline users (33.3%, 95% CI: 21.7%-46.7%) quit smoking than nicotine patch users (13.3%, 95% CI: 5.9%-24.6%). The adjusted rate difference was 24.2% (95% CI: 10.2%-38.2%) and the adjusted relative risk was 2.8 (95% CI: 1.4-5.7). CONCLUSIONS: Varenicline was almost three times more effective than nicotine patches in assisting pregnant women to quit smoking. Further studies are needed to corroborate our results. Together with data on the safety of varenicline during pregnancy, evidence regarding the relative benefit of varenicline and NRT during pregnancy important for informing clinical decisions for pregnant smokers. IMPLICATIONS: This study is the first to measure the comparative effectiveness of varenicline and nicotine patches during pregnancy - women using varenicline were almost three times as likely to quit smoking than those using nicotine patches. This study addressed a clinically important question using an observational study, noting that there is an absence of evidence from randomized controlled trials because of the ethical issues associated with including pregnant women in clinical trials of medicines of unknown safety.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1664-1672
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


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