Want to Quit Smoking? Check Your Metabolism First
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Want to Quit Smoking? Check Your Metabolism First


This post was originally published on January 15, 2015.

Anyone who’s ever tried to kick cigarettes knows it’s beyond a bitch—one of the hardest things to do on the planet, often harder than putting the plug in the jug or sweeping the last of our coke into the trash. We try, over and over and over, to put the cigarettes out for good, but for most of us, just a few days after inhaling that last pack, we’re lighting up again to curb the insatiable craving.

There is, of course, the patch and Chantix and orange-flavored nicotine gum to help, but these don’t always work, adding insult to our genuine resolutions to quit. Seventy percent of folks who try to quit go back to their Marlboros or Camels or American Spirits in less than a week. So why aren’t these smoking cessation products working?

Well, there’s hope! A new study published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine reports that your metabolism might hold the key to quitting for good. See, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Health, the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center and the State University of New York took 1200 smokers under their collective wing to test what method of quitting did the job best.

For a lot of us, the word “metabolism” has more to do with how fast we burn off the cronuts we ate for breakfast or the lasagna we inhaled at dinner. We want to rev up our metabolism so we can fit into those skinny jeans without a muffin top and to avoid ungodly man boobs.

But scientists have uncovered the importance of how each smoker metabolizes nicotine.  Apparently, there are two types of smokers—those who metabolize nicotine fast and those who metabolize it slowly. Testing to see which camp you belong in can determine whether the patch or varencicline (generic for Chantix) will best help you quit.

Guinea pigs for the study included smokers who lit up at least 10 cigarettes a day and had carbon monoxide readings of greater than 10 ppm. For those who don’t know (i.e. pretty much everyone?), PPM stands for Parts Per Million—100 PPM of carbon dioxide means that for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of CO. Yep, it’s pretty gnarly to know that we smokers have noxious carbon monoxide—the same gas that kills suicide victims when they attach a hose to their exhaust pipe, turn on the car and take deep Vedic breaths with the windows rolled up—running through our veins.

Like alcohol, nicotine is metabolized in the liver, and studying the activity of enzymes in the liver of each smoker revealed the speed that they metabolize nicotine. To see whether the subjects fell into the slow or fast category, blood samples were drawn that indicated the ratio of two metabolites that fire up when you light up.

After determining whether the smokers were fast or slow metabolizers, some were selected at random to test out nicotine patches, Chantix and placebo (fake) pills and patches. Others made up control groups that took only the fake stuff.

Turns out that if you metabolize nicotine fast, Chantix is the pick for you. If you metabolize it slowly, the patch is a better option. While the test is groundbreaking, it’s still, alas, in its early stages and not yet available to the public. And whether or not it will work also depends, of course, on how committed you are to kick the habit in the ass.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.