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A new study by the UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention -- funded by a $7 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute -- is the first in the U.S. to assess the pill and the patch together.

Up to 1,000 smokers from the Madison and Milwaukee areas are being sought for a study of whether using a pill and a patch together, or taking the pill twice as long as usual, makes it easier for people to quit smoking.

Half of the 800,000 or so smokers in Wisconsin try to quit each year, but “most relapse within a day,” said Dr. Michael Fiore, director of the UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention. “They feel as though everything they’ve tried has been unsuccessful.”

The center’s new study aims to improve the odds. All participants will receive counseling and take varenicline, a smoking cessation pill also known as Chantix, for three months, the normal time period it is used.

Half will continue the pill for another three months. In each of the two groups, half will use nicotine patches while they take the pill. Placebo pills and patches will be involved, so people won’t know which group they are in.

Funded by a $7 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the study is the first in the U.S. to assess the pill and the patch together, Fiore said.

The idea came from a study in South Africa, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2014, that found 49 percent of smokers who used both the pill and the patch quit for at least six months, compared with 32.6 percent who took only the pill.

“It really caught our attention,” Fiore said. If similar results are found in the U.S., “it would be helpful to both smokers as well as the doctors who care for them,” he said.

The pill simulates nicotine in the body while blocking it from certain receptors. Nicotine from patches might bind to other receptors in ways that blunt the desire to smoke, Fiore said.

In an earlier UW-Madison study, 22.8 percent of smokers who used the patch, 23.6 percent of those who took the pill and 26.8 percent of those who used a patch along with a lozenge, for three months, quit for at least six months. The differences were not statistically significant.

About 17.1 percent of adults in Wisconsin smoked in 2016, down from 20.9 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark McCann, of Cottage Grove, stopped smoking 12 years ago, when he used the patch and a different medication through another UW study.

McCann, 61, a heavy smoker for many years, said he worried about his health as he approached his 50th birthday. He didn’t think he could quit long term, but being in the study gave him the confidence to do so, he said.

“When I first quit, I craved cigarettes,” he said. “Now, the smell of them disgusts me.”

For more information about the study, go to endcigs.com or call (877) 363-2447.