The effects of prescribing varenicline on two-year health outcomes: an observational cohort study using electronic medical records

Neil M. Davies*, Gemma M.J. Taylor, Amy E. Taylor, Timothy Jones, Richard M. Martin, Marcus R. Munafò, Frank Windmeijer, Kyla H. Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
348 Downloads (Pure)


Aims: To investigate whether smokers prescribed varenicline had lower risks of serious ill-health during the 4 years following treatment compared with those prescribed nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Design: Observational cohort study of electronic medical records. Setting: A total of 370 UK general practices sampled from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Participants: A total of 126 718 patients aged 18 and over who were issued smoking cessation prescriptions between 1 September 2006 and 31 March 2014. Measurements: Our primary outcome was all-cause mortality within 2 years of first prescription as indicated by linked Office of National Statistics data. Our secondary outcomes were cause-specific mortality, all-cause, cause-specific hospitalization, primary care diagnosis of myocardial infarction or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), body mass index and attendance rate to primary care within 2 years of first prescription. Risk differences and 95% confidence intervals were estimated by multivariable adjusted regression and propensity score matched regression. We used instrumental variable analysis to overcome residual confounding. Findings: People prescribed varenicline were healthier at baseline than those prescribed NRT in almost all characteristics, highlighting the potential for residual confounding. Our instrumental variable analysis results found that people prescribed varenicline had a similar risk of mortality at 2 years [risk difference per 100 patients treated = 0.67, 95% confidence interval (CI) = -0.11 to 1.46)] to those prescribed NRT, and there were similar rates of all-cause hospitalization, incident primary-care diagnoses of myocardial infarction and COPD. People prescribed varenicline subsequently attended primary care less frequently. Conclusions: Smokers prescribed varenicline in primary care in the United Kingdom do not appear to be less likely to die, be hospitalized or experience a myocardial infarction or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease during the following 2 years compared with smokers prescribed nicotine replacement therapy, but they gain more weight and attend primary care less frequently.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1116
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Early online date20 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018

Structured keywords

  • ICEP
  • Brain and Behaviour
  • Tobacco and Alcohol


  • CPRD
  • instrumental variables
  • mortality
  • myocardial infarction
  • nicotine replacement therapy
  • varenicline


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