The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) has unveiled a locally developed cytisine -- an alkaloid that occurs naturally in certain plants -- that can help people quit smoking, reduce treatment costs and potentially save over 12 million baht in imported drugs.
Dr Mingkwan Suphanpong, the GPO's director, said there are more than 9.9 million people in Thailand over the age of 15 who are classed as frequent smokers.
She was speaking on World No Tobacco Day, which fell on Wednesday.
Considering that some of these will die from smoking-related diseases like lung or oesophageal cancer, emphysema and heart disease, the health costs are significant, she said.
Thailand has five listed drugs that can be prescribed to help people kick the habit: varenicline, bupropion, nicotine replacement therapy, nortriptyline and little ironweed.
Only the last two appear on the National List of Essential Medicines, said Dr Mingkwan.
Human trials have shown the GPO's cytisine to be safe and effective, she said.
Dr Ming- kwan added the drug is now in the process of being approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Mingkwan: Drug costs less
She added that cytisine GPO will be a regulated drug which is only available at hospitals. Dr Mingkwan said the cost of helping smokers quit will be greatly reduced if cytisine can serve as a replacement for varenicline. Moreover, the GPO version can save up to 12 million baht per year by serving as a substitute for imported medicine, she said.
The GPO plans to distribute cytisine in January. The Department of Thai Traditional and Complementary Medicine has suggested smokers try herbal medicine first to kick the habit.
Dr Thiti Sawangtham, the department's deputy permanent secretary, said the three best herbal medicines in this regard are clove, little ironweed and lime.
The first two can be taken orally to reduce nicotine cravings while ironweed can be brewed as an after-meal tea.
Dr Thiti said Chinese traditional medicine recommends acupuncture to quit smoking. Research suggests this produces serotonin, which eases the cravings for nicotine and helps people balance their metabolism and sleep cycle. More information about the application of herbal medication is available on the department's official Facebook page or by calling (02) 591-7007.