Will This Vaccine Cure Smoking?

Meet NicVax, the opposite of the cool kids at the bus stop in 7th grade who got you to try a cigarette for the first time.

The Washington Post reports the would-be wonder vaccine from Nabi Biopharmaceuticals is close to being picked up by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Reporter Mike Musgrove writes:

For many years, the standard treatment for breaking a smoker’s dependence on nicotine has been patches or gum that contain declining dosages of the substance in an effort to wean addicts off their dependence.

Nabi’s experimental vaccine, a decade in the works, tries a more direct approach: It shuts down nicotine’s access to the brain. Smokers may light up a cigarette while on NicVax, but if the drug works as intended, they won’t feel any of the stimulating effects they crave from nicotine.

I think I might buy some of this stuff and use it to inject bothersome smokers at random. Smokers, how much would you pay to be able to needle your way out of your habit?

Smoking vaccine takes new approach [Washington Post, via The Awl]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Winter White says:

    Isn’t this along the same lines as Chantix?

    What I don’t get though, is if this drug inhibits your response to nicotine, you’ll still have the craving. I feel like this would probably work but probably be a pretty miserable experience for the person trying to quit…at least if you go cold turkey you have the option to sate the craving if you want, if you do this then you just have to suffer. I guess that’s both good and bad.

    • RPHP says:

      I was thinking the exact same thing as you. It is still going to be painful to get off AND you have no way to hit the craving if necessary.

    • RPHP says:

      I will note though that if you get this “vaccine’ before you start smoking it should be easy to quit because you will never develop a dependence.

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

      Chantix…. bleh. I took Chantix for a couple months, faithfully never missing a dose and magically the cravings stopped. It was wonderful… until the side effects kicked in. I did not become depressed or sad, I started getting angry. Mind you this was weeks after I’d had my last cigarette. Everything was a fight waiting to happen, this wasn’t me. I wanted to harm others. This may be a rare side effect, but it was unacceptable, so I quit taking it.

      I have a problem with idea of this drug. With my limited (but somewhat educated understanding) this works by blocking receptors in the brain that accept nicotine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t those same receptors accept other chemicals that cause pleasure as well?

      The only success I’ve had with quitting smoking is cold turkey, preferably when I have a few days where I can avoid people.

      • redrolla says:

        If I read correctly, Chantix actually blocks the receptors which also includes pleasure. This new drug makes the nicotine molecules too large for the receptors.

      • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

        One of my coworkers is taking chantix, and they are only getting the sleep-related side effects. But otherwise, they say its amazing. They just no longer have the “need” to smoke any more.

    • Aphex242 says:

      I used Chantix, and it helped me kick a 15 year 2 pack a day habit. I agree the concept is scary, and I agree this vaccine needs testing big time, but honestly Chantix was a huge success for me.

      It cost less than cigarettes, it had fewer side effects, and once I took it for 3 months it was all over. Haven’t smoked a puff since in almost 3 years now.

  2. Noir says:

    I think crime would raise higher than the US debt. You would get the addicts without a way to satisft their craving, they would go batshit crazy and kill everything on their way to try to find a cure with the medical lab.
    On the other hand, it would be pretty awesome to watch that.

  3. Blueskylaw says:

    You have to want to stop. If you don’t then you will just try smoking more to try to get your nicotine fix which will defeat the whole purpose of taking NicVax.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I fully agree with this. When it comes to smoking, it’s like any other addiction, whether alcohol or caffeine. You have to want to stop and deal with the side effects from not having it in your system for a while. Why do you think there’s such a high recidivism rate for drug addicts who leave rehab? They may no longer physically have the drug in their bodies, but they still want the drugs. When you change the mind, the body will follow. Simply getting rid of the drugs doesn’t ease the craving that still exists in the mind.

  4. thnkwhatyouthnk says:

    Name your price! With the rising cost of cigarettes, I’d be willing to pay and not have this god-awful addiction anymore.

  5. mac-phisto says:

    I think I might buy some of this stuff and use it to inject bothersome smokers at random.

    YAY! more militant non-smokers! sorry, phil, your freebie day to beat on smokers without penalty was last week. hit me with a needle at random & i’ll put my butt out in your eye.

    • diasdiem says:

      One word: Blowgun.

    • captadam says:

      Just please don’t toss that butt on the street or sidewalk, okay?

      • bigTrue says:

        This. Being a Burning Man participant, you learn to carry an altoids tin or something similar to hold butts in. Nonsmokers carry them to pick up any that are dropped mistakenly. I don’t understand why smokers think it’s ok to toss butts on the ground. It’s trash, it doesn’t biodegrade, and anyone throwing one out a window or on the ground should be ticketed for litering.

      • PølάrβǽЯ says:

        Oh, they all do that and none of them care. Smokers were catered to in the last century, and as a result, they still feel entitled to smoke as they please with complete disregard to non-smokers.

        I’ve never seen a more selfish and inconsiderate group of people.

        • SJActress says:

          I’ve never seen such a generalized, stereotypical response before.

          Not all smokers are assholes; you only NOTICE the assholes.

    • Preyfar says:


      That reminds me of all the needle attacks in China where people were trying to spread diseases by stabbing random strangers with infected syringes.

  6. diasdiem says:

    So they smoke, but don’t get any of the stimulation? Won’t that pretty much make them go through withdrawal? Seems cheaper just to go the Trainspotting route and lock yourself in a room with a bucket.

    • humphrmi says:

      Yeah, but so does everyone else who quits. I think the point is, you’ll smoke you’re way through the withdrawal period, then once you’re through it, you’ll realize that you can just not smoke, and you can simply stop. But it doesn’t make withdrawal any easier.

      I’d probably give it a try.

  7. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    I’m game, where do I sign up?

  8. Janine Melnitz says:

    They can still be psychologically addicted. I bet being able to smoke a cigarette, even without the nicotine getting to your brain, will make it a lot more difficult.

    • captadam says:

      A lot of the addiction lies in the physical and social aspects of it. Of course, the social aspects of smoking at the bar or restaurant–and, before those bans, at work–are quickly disappearing. But the physical aspect of lighting the cigarette, holding it, bringing it to the lips–those can all be attractive without the nicotine. I say this as a non-smoker, but as somebody who has picked up a coffee habit, I can relate. Yeah, I want that caffeine, but I can get the same physical pleasures (holding the coffee cup, drinking hot liquid) and social pleasures (sitting at the coffee house with a friend, coffee, and conversation) with a cup of decaf.

      • Janine Melnitz says:

        I have a weird psychological addiction to my fast-acting asthma medication. I’m not as bad as I used to be, but I still use it more than I need to because it has the association of feeling better. Not good!

  9. The hand that feeds, now with more bacon says:

    This doesn’t sound like a cure at all. In fact, if it were administered to an unwitting smoker then he would undoubtedly smoke more rather than less. Could you imagine if you were hungry and you ate, but all of the food fell out of a hole in your throat before it got to your stomach?

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Or eating and never feeling sated. There was an article (which was reposted on Consumerist) about how that’s a problem for some people who are overweight: they eat more because they don’t feel satisfied with normal amounts of food (and the weight gain makes the problem worse). It was the opposite of what you might assume, that they eat more because they taste/enjoy food more than other people. They’re actually enjoying the food less.

  10. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    In the future do you think people will inject this into children so that they will never become addicted to smoking in the first place? That’s an interesting thought.

    I think this might work in the long run, but it does seem like it would be a really miserable way to quit. It doesn’t help you deal with the cravings.. it just shuts off the reward.

    Thankfully this is one thing I don’t have to worry about. I never fell for it when the “cool kids” offered.

    • PølάrβǽЯ says:

      “Teach our kids not to smoke? Pfft, there’s a drug that’ll do that for us!” Gotta love modern society.

      I simply inject good values and information on health risks in my children to keep them from smoking. And every once in a while, some good, old-fashioned fear.

      It’s worked so far.

      • TheBaronVanWolfe says:

        but that doesnt always work, in fact sometimes telling them not to makes it MORE attractive, especially if the kid hates you (which will happen around teenager times no matter how good of a parent you are, i know from experience as both). This drug is a suspiciously easy and lazy solution but hey if it can keep our kids from being stupid and getting lung cancer im all for it

  11. sufreak says:

    “I think I might buy some of this stuff and use it to inject bothersome smokers at random”
    Best line ever…

  12. SanDiegoDude says:

    Sorry, but the physical addiction to Nicotine is over fast (I’ve read between 1 and 3 weeks) – it’s the mental aspect of it that is soooo hard to beat. I quit smoking over 5 months ago, and on a day to day basis I don’t have any problems… Go out to the bar with friends and the urges hit hard! Thankfully I’ve been able to stave off the craving, but I can tell you right now, it’s not the nicotine I’m craving, it’s the habit…. I could probably smoke a banana peel instead and it would be just as satisfying once I’ve had a few beers.

    • madanthony says:

      I’m not a smoker, but I occasionally would light up a cigar either at the bar or at home while drinking a beer. I don’t anymore, but I still get the urge to, even though I doubt I ever smoked enough to have any physical addiction. So I agree with your point.

      Hell, I also used to be fat, and I still want to eat sometimes when I’m not hungry. It’s more about habits than anything else.

  13. katia802 says:

    Enter text… a little more than I pay per week for cigarettes. I’ve tried the patch, gum, hypnotism, cold turkey more times than I can count, even meditation. Without health insurance, I can’t afford those pills that are supposed to work, but, have been trying to get into a study so I can try them too.

  14. katia802 says:

    Okay, trying this again. I’d pay more than i pay for cigarettes every week. I’ve tried every method I could, meditation, cold turkey so many times i’ve lost count, the patch, the gum, and am actively trying to get into a medical study so I can try Chantrix. (no medical insurance atm)

    • pitawg says:

      e-cig/personal vaporizer with nicotine laced vapor
      Have you tried them? Regardless of your personal ability to manage how much nicotine you use with these, it removes thousands of chemicals from your intake of cig smoke, using propylene glycol as in smoke machines (like the kids are breathing in playing laser tag indoors) and foods/drugs you consume now, giving you the nicotine and feel of a cig. No tar or pro-nicotine-absorption additives, just nic, PG, and whatever is used for the flavoring of your choice (many flavors).

      This is at present still an option, and available. Due to the cig industry pushing the FDA to blackball something they want money from, it may not be available ten years from now. The FDA even did a hit piece on e-cig with broken comments regarding one chinese maker’s product. This will leave potential users of e-cigs with no option but to go back to (after-all nicotine is still a poison) much more toxic real cig. Thousands of fewer chemicals, including the burn residue from the plant, mandated slower burn paper, and other chemicals is still not enough reason for Anti-Smoke people to accept the e-cig as a valid alternative.

      Much of this is available from US and EU sellers. The liquid can also be mixed from US and EU sources instead of trusting chinese mass production sources for safe mixes.

      http://www.e-cigarette-forum.com/forum/ has almost all you need to know and discussions on all sides.

      I just do not want any option to go without your attention if you are having difficulties.

  15. redrolla says:

    I would definitely pay to get rid of cigs. Next doctors visit going on Chantix, which tried once before (long story why started again, nothing to do with the effectiveness of the drug). This stuff sounds just like it. You would think there would be a withdraw period, but I didn’t feel it. One day, just didn’t want to smoke anymore.

    Wonder if the insurance companies won’t cover this med, just like Chantix. It’s an expensive drug and my health ins company does see the need to help me quit. That’s the story I would like to see on here.

    FYI, many smoker hate smoking. The whole putting them down thing, doesn’t help at all. In fact makes us want to smoke around those people more. It’s a serious addiction, many believe harder than alcohol and cocaine to quit. For me personally, that’s true. Yet, alcohol and cocaine addicts have treatment centers, but not smokers.

    • webweazel says:

      “FYI, many smoker hate smoking. The whole putting them down thing, doesn’t help at all. In fact makes us want to smoke around those people more. It’s a serious addiction, many believe harder than alcohol and cocaine to quit. For me personally, that’s true. Yet, alcohol and cocaine addicts have treatment centers, but not smokers.”

      They’ve proven that it is more addicting than heroin. There are no treatment centers, support groups, like you stated. No help whatsoever. Nothing is covered by insurance; pills, medications, and patches are DAMN expensive, do not always work, etc. And all the help we ever get is recommendations to “just quit” from everybody, including doctors. It’s not that simple.

      We’re all on our own, except for one day a year during the “smoke out”. Big whoop. That’s the time that all the zanies really get on our backs, and NOT in a nice supportive way, usually up in our faces saying what dirty pigs we are, or something along those lines. Some of them, I WOULD like to put a butt out in their eye, like somebody else here said. We need help and support, not prodding with a sharp stick.

  16. LoneHighlander says:

    My childrens’ pediatrician recommends Chantix for adults who live with children and may want to quit. Twice he’s mentioned that it may have some side effects. I finally asked him what side effects. Nightmares, he said, bad nightmares. Sure enough, if you Google “Chantix nightmares” there’s plenty to find about it. Some people who are serious about quitting may be looking for an alternative to Chantix. Wonder what Nabi’s side effects will be…?

    • redrolla says:

      When I took Chantix I didn’t really have nightmares, well sometimes. It really just cause VERY vivid dreams. Since I rarely remember my dreams, it was kind of fun :).

    • humphrmi says:

      Same here – thought about Chantix but the nightmares scared me off of it, I need my sleep :)

    • She_Goes_to_Eleven says:

      I tried Chantix a couple of times, but I ended up never being able to get past the second week. I would take the smaller “lead-up” dose and be fine – no cravings, no feeling any need to smoke at all. Once I got to the full dose, though, it made me unbearably nauseous. I once tried cutting the pills in half, and promptly vomited in my trash can at work! (It came on so strong and so fast, I simply couldn’t get up from my desk before disaster struck.) Since it only comes in the blister pack, there wasn’t any way for my Doc to just prescribe me the lower dose and be done with it.

      I never had nightmares on Chantix, though I had really strange vivid dreams on the patch. I tried taking it off at night, same thing. I was finally able to quit about a month ago when new hubby & I decided starting our married lives together would be better without cigarettes. We support each other and it hasn’t been that bad, to tell the truth. I think about smoking almost every day about a half hour before I leave work, but I can get through it.

  17. bermygirl says:

    Actually, from what I’ve read about this vaccine, it differs from Chantix. Chantix essentially disables the pleasure center of your brain from feeling pleasure from the nicotine, along with feeling pleasure from other things such as eating good food. This vaccine actually bonds with the nicotine, making it too large to pass through the blood brain barrier in your brain, keeping it from even reaching the pleasure center.

  18. Shadowman615 says:

    There already has been another alternative to gum and patches for several years now. It’s called Zyband or Wellbutrin. Basically it diminishes nicotine cravings.

    One should note that similar products to NicVax have been developed for alcoholics many years ago that basically blocked all the effects of alcohol. None of them had much success. Of course, alcoholism is a much different animal than nicotine addiction.

  19. ChemicalFyre says:

    I am starting my third week with Chantix. After only taking it for three days, smoking made me quite nauseous. I ended up stopping after three days, and I haven’t had any real ‘nic fits’ at all. I find myself more perturbed that I didn’t have anything to fiddle with, especially during the times I always used to smoke. Getting in the car and driving to work in the morning without the first smoke of the day was a toughie.

    Read directly from the medical sheets that came in the box of Chantix, the medicine bonds to nicotine molecules in your system and prevents them from activating the nicotine receptors in your brain.

    As for shutting off the pleasure centers in your brain, thats a bit of an exaggeration. I was warned however that Chantix can have a mood leveling effect on people with stress or anxiety disorders, and honestly I’ve been a little more even-tempered. I guess its time to see the good ole’ doc again after I’m finished with Chantrix!

  20. Conrad says:

    Wellbutrin’s lovely side effect of helping you quit smoking worked for me. It helped the cravings a little bit, but years after quitting I still have dreams and nightmares about cigarettes.

    • Vjeszczi says:

      I tried wellbutrin, but it made me a basket case, even on a half dose. I could only sleep for 2 hours at a time, regardless of how tired I was, and gave me crazy nightmares when I could sleep.

  21. nocar says:

    Two cold turkey stories in one day!

  22. blinker_flewid says:

    It’s certainly a noble cause, however I seriously doubt that if it indeed ‘cured’ smoking that the big insurance companies would allow it out there. Cancer is big business. Just like many other diseases and addictions.

  23. Hi says:

    I quit smoking because I wanted to. I didn’t need a vaccine or a patch or anything. All I needed to do was stop buying them and stop bumming them from people and the problem went away. It was kinda hard to stop at first because smoke breaks at work are more adictive than actually smoking itself. But my point is you don’t need a vaccine, and jesus I hope they aren’t saying their going to vaccinate children before they start smoking.

  24. trujunglist says:

    Cold turkey isn’t that bad, people just don’t have any willpower to be slightly uncomfortable, or rather, not in their routine. Almost all of the addiction to cigarettes, imo, is the fact that you establish routines with them. Like, oh, I just ate a huge meal, mmm, cigarette time, or while drinking, or after sex, or what have you. I don’t find nicotine to be too much more addictive than say, wanting to eat candy every night after dinner or something, but the fact is I have routines that are hard for me to get away from. I’ve quit cold turkey before and stayed off for years but then went back because I like the routine. It certainly wasn’t for the taste or smell…

  25. FilthyHarry says:

    Actual physical addiction to nicotine can be kicked in 48 hours. The rest is all psychological addiction of habit. The muscle memory, the activity itself, going through the motions can take years to overcome and isn’t addressed at all by any method that is focused on nicotine addiction.

    Quit smoking. Don’t have a cigarette for a year. Stress situation hits, without even realizing it, you can look down and see a half smoked cigarette in your hand.

  26. Vjeszczi says:

    It does sound like it is similar to Chantix. At least the way it is described is how it made me feel. I could light up and smoke, but I did not get anything out of it. It made smoking a chore. However it really did not do anything for the craving of wanting to smoke, which in my case is the primary reason I do it. I had more success with the patch than I did with Chantix.

  27. non-meat-stick says:

    Doesn’t my insurance want to pay for this? I’m so wishy-washy when it comes to quitting…

  28. Jalh says:

    let’s see how many people will start suffering depression.

  29. SnoopyFish says:

    As of today I have gone 48 days of no smoking. After 9 years of smoking daily and repeated attempts to quit; I think I have finally kicked this damn habit. And it only took two steps.
    1. A bunch of cinnamon Nicorette gum.
    2. No drinking booze at all!!!

    The hardest part was realizing that in order to quit smoking; I would also need to quit drinking (which was a daily thing for me as well). It’s not easy cutting your body off from 2 chemicals that it would receive pretty much daily.

  30. jayde_drag0n says:

    “I think I might buy some of this stuff and use it to inject bothersome smokers at random” really.. alright I’m gunna go ahead and inject you with something without your permission or knowledge as to what I’m injecting you with because you’re a bother

  31. Bagumpity says:

    What other drugs does this make ineffective? I’d hate to have this become mandatory for all school age kids and then find out later that the same chemical receptors it blocks are required to be unblocked for some sort of life-saving drug to work.

  32. MercuryPDX says:

    I don’t think you should be taking something that tweaks your brain chemistry like this.

    I quit cold turkey in February, and haven’t relapsed yet. It’s not enough to pop a pill or stick on a patch… you REALLY have to want it.

  33. admiral_stabbin says:

    I actually smoke a very small number of cigarettes by choice. Typically, 1-2/day. I don’t need to be “cured” of the sin…I have quit through sheer will before, and if I chose to quit again…I would just do it.

    On the other hand, I really do hope this works for those that need + want help to stop.

  34. ElizabethD says:

    Can they make something like this that prevents you from eating too much?

  35. Lucky225 says:

    meh, e-cigs are way better it’s not the nicotine I want to quit, it’s the SMOKEing of 4,000+ chemicals in tabacco, with e-cigs I get the pure nicotine goodness in vapor form

  36. PencilSharp says:

    Yay! Finally got back in… Love the reboot, BTW.

    Anyways: There seems to be some misunderstanding in this thread about exactly how Zyban (new sexy name) / Wellbutrin (old busted name) / bupropion (cheap [about $25/mo @ WM] equally-effective generic) actually works

    Y’see, bupropion actually attacks the nicotine receptors in the brain. When the drug is metabolized, the resulting product (the technical term is, I believe, “stuff”) latches onto those nasty little receptors, preventing them from taking on any nicotine. After a little while (usually a few days), these receptors actually die and break off, and are removed from the body like any other waste.

    This drug can be quite effective, but as others have pointed out, you can’t always depend on it to kill the urge entirely. You have to want to quit; bupropion just help you do it… sometimes.

    As for NicVax itself, I would wait for the first few rounds of public trials to demonstrate safety and efficacy before I would give it a shot.

    And for all you smoka-haytas out there, bear with us, please. Most of us are even more sick of it than you are… literally!

    • midwest tess says:

      What you said – thanks for sticking up for us – I think 99% who still smoke would love to quit – we’re thinking about it all the time so cut us some slack please!

  37. H3ion says:

    I think I’d avoid anything that affected the blood/brain barrier. Forgetting the nicotine addiction, there are many other reasons people smoke, including oral gratification and just having something in your hands. I’m going to give this one a pass.

  38. NuttyOne says:

    If this method proven to be a successful way for a long time smokers like me, sign me up! I am willing to pay to get rid of this nasty & expensive habit!

  39. Meggeler says:

    Hey Mr. Frye – I’m about to start my 3rd attempt on Chantix –

    – first time thought I could smoke my wifes cigarette – social event.
    – second on Burbon St. in New Orleans, a cigar pusher rolling the cigars – damn it was good! But I started smoking . . ..

    This time, I hope . . . I hope you might see what happened to me so please be careful.

  40. Suntan says:

    Wait, I am late. Did they find the virus that causes smoking? NO virus not a vaccine.

    Definition of a vaccine: A preparation of a weakened or killed pathogen, such as a bacterium or virus, or of a portion of the pathogen’s structure that upon administration stimulates antibody production or cellular immunity against the pathogen but is incapable of causing severe infection.

    This is all marketing hype.

  41. midwest tess says:

    If this stuff really works I’d be first in line. As a long time smoker, I’d love to quit but believe me it’s not that easy!

  42. Press1forDialTone says:

    I’m right there with what Conrad had to say. I was taking a moderate dose of
    Wellbutrin (the depression medicine) in order to help Prozac do a better job
    with alleviating my anxiety and depression and one day, I was smoking more
    than usual, got a bit nauseous, and it was so unpleasant I just went cold-turkey
    and it worked! I never had a craving, not one. Sounds amazing but I’m on the
    level. Wellbutrin is sold as the medicine Zyban. It does help if you -really- want
    to quit. Why? Because Wellbutrin enhances the neurotransmitter dopamine
    which helps you stick with behaviors which are pleasurable, like wanting like
    heck to quit smoking.