What is Varenicline (Champix®)?
Varenicline tartrate, sold under the brand Champix, is a popular quit smoking medication that is available from your doctor with a prescription.
You will need to ask your doctor whether Champix is suitable for you.
How does Champix work?
Champix works by making smoking less enjoyable for some people.
When you smoke, nicotine binds to particular receptors in your brain, activating the reward centre and releasing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good for a short time. The body wants to repeat this feeling, causing a craving. A craving is your body telling you that you are in nicotine withdrawal.
Champix attaches to a type of these brain receptors. You don't feel the same 'hit' when you smoke, and many people get fewer cravings and feel fewer withdrawal symptoms while taking the medication.
Is Champix right for me?
Generally, Champix is best for people who smoke ten or more cigarettes per day who want to quit.
Some factors that may make Champix suitable for you include:
- You smoke within 30 minutes of waking up.
- You smoke more than ten cigarettes per day.
- You get nicotine withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.
Your doctor will discuss your individual situation and decide if Champix is right for you.
Tell your doctor if you have any medical conditions, if you are pregnant or if you have any allergies.
Does Champix work for everyone?
Many people find Champix helps. Clinical trials have shown that use of Champix can more than double your chances of quitting if combined with professional support like free Quitline counselling.
Champix may not work for everyone and taking it by itself does not give you the best chance of quitting smoking. It can form part of an overall quit smoking plan, along with professional help and other quit smoking strategies.
Find out how to start your quit smoking plan.
How much does Champix cost?
Champix, prescribed by your doctor under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), is $40.30 for 4 weeks of treatment if you have a Medicare card, and $6.50 if you have a concession card.
This works out to a total of $120.90 for the full 12 week treatment with a Medicare card, or $19.50 with a concession card.
To continue to receive the medication at a reduced cost through the PBS after the first 4-week prescription, you must take part in a quit smoking program, such as through the free NSW Quitline.
For more information, visit the PBS website at www.pbs.gov.au or call the PBS Information Line on 1800 020 613.
How do you use Champix?
Champix comes in tablet form. A standard course lasts for 12 weeks. Always follow the instructions given by your doctor.
Before starting you should decide on a date in the second week of treatment when you will stop smoking. Write it down on the packet as a reminder. You might also want to put a reminder into your phone.
Usually you will take a lower dose to start, then reach the full dose after around 4 days.
After a few days you may notice you don't get as much enjoyment from smoking.
What are the side effects?
Most people don't experience side effects but they can occur. The most common is nausea, which affects around 1 in 3 people taking the medication.
Other common side effects include trouble sleeping and vivid dreams. Some people find that changing when they take the tablets can help, but you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist about this before changing how you take the medication.
Less common side effects include constipation, gas, dry mouth, vomiting, indigestion, headache, dizziness, feeling tired, increased appetite and changes in taste. They are usually mild and they generally appear in the first week of treatment.
If you feel unwell or notice any changes in your mood or behaviour while taking Champix, tell your doctor or pharmacist as soon as possible.
You can read more information about the side effects of Champix, on the NPS MedicineWise website.
Can I drink alcohol while using Champix?
You need to take care when drinking alcohol while taking Champix. Some people experience a lower tolerance to alcohol when using Champix.
Limit your alcohol consumption until you know how it affects you.
Drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of experiencing changes to your behaviour, thinking or mood when using Champix.
How long does a course of Champix last?
A standard course lasts for 12 weeks
Do I only need one script?
No. The first script provides you with four weeks’ worth of medication. You’ll need to return to your GP for a review after 2-3 weeks of starting Champix, before being prescribed the rest of the medication.
I’ve heard that I have to enrol or join a support program to get Champix – is this true? What happens if I don’t want to?
Yes. You must receive professional quit smoking support at the same time as taking this medication, such as the free NSW Quitline service.
Your doctor can refer you to Quitline and give you more advice on what programs are available to you.
Should I stop smoking as soon as I take Champix?
No. Before starting you should decide on a date in the second week of treatment when you will stop smoking. We suggest writing this down on the pack or setting a reminder in your phone.
If I don’t succeed with this course of Champix, can I go back and get another course?
One 12-week course of Champix is available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) within 12 months.
If you are still quit at the end of the first 12 weeks, you can talk to your doctor, and you can extend your treatment for another 12 weeks.
If you started smoking again, your doctor can prescribe another course on the PBS 6 months after the initial course.
If I don’t succeed in quitting with Champix, can I try Zyban (Bupropion)?
If your doctor thinks Zyban is suitable for you, you need to wait six months after being prescribed Champix before being prescribed Zyban.
Can I use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) at the same time as Champix?
No. The advantages and safety of using NRT at the same time as Champix are not known and cannot be recommended.
Can I use Champix if I’m pregnant?
No. The safety of Champix during pregnancy is not known. It is not suitable to use this medication if you are pregnant.
Can Champix be used by children aged under 18 years?
No. The effects of Champix on children are not known. It is not suitable for people aged under 18.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is the only pharmaceutical option recommended for people under 18 years of age.
Can I use Champix if I’m taking other medications?
It depends. You need to tell your doctor if you are taking other medications and they can provide you with information on which medicines you need to be careful with or avoid while taking Champix.