The effectiveness of varenicline versus nicotine replacement therapy on long-term smoking cessation in primary care: a prospective cohort study of electronic medical records

Int J Epidemiol. 2017 Dec 1;46(6):1948-1957. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyx109.


Background: There is limited evidence about the effectiveness of varenicline and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for long-term smoking cessation in primary care, or whether the treatment effectiveness differs by socioeconomic position (SEP). Therefore, we estimated the long-term effectiveness of varenicline versus NRT (> 2 years) on smoking cessation, and investigated whether effectiveness differs by SEP.

Methods: This is a prospective cohort study of electronic medical records from 654 general practices in England, within the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, using three different analytical methods: multivariable logistic regression, propensity score matching and instrumental variable analyses. Exposure was prescription of varenicline versus NRT, and the primary outcome was smoking cessation at 2 years' follow-up; outcome was also assessed at 3, 6, and 9 months, and at 1 and 4 years after exposure. SEP was defined using the Index of Multiple Deprivation.

Results: At 2 years, 28.8% (N = 20 362/70 610) of participants prescribed varenicline and 24.3% (N = 36 268/149 526) of those prescribed NRT quit; adjusted odds ratio was 1.26 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.23 to 1.29], P < 0.0001. The association persisted for up to 4 years and was consistent across all analyses. We found little evidence that the effectiveness of varenicline differed greatly by SEP. However, patients from areas of higher deprivation were less likely to be prescribed varenicline; adjusted odds ratio was 0.91 (95% CI: 0.90 to 0.92), P < 0.0001.

Conclusions: Patients prescribed varenicline were more likely to be abstinent up to 4 years after first prescription than those prescribed NRT. In combination with other evidence, the results from this study may be used to update clinical guidelines on the use of varenicline for smoking cessation.

Keywords: Smoking cessation; causal; cohort; effectiveness; electronic medical records; instrumental variable; nicotine replacement therapy; primary care; tobacco; varenicline.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electronic Health Records
  • England
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Propensity Score
  • Prospective Studies
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Social Class
  • Time Factors
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Varenicline / administration & dosage*


  • Nicotine
  • Varenicline