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The BBC's James Reynolds
"(She) had suffered from headaches and blackouts shortly after she began taking the drug"
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The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"The inquest heard she'd suffered a fatal epileptic fit"
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Thursday, 26 April, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Smoking tragedy prompts warning
Kerry Weston
Kerry Weston died after taking Zyban to quit smoking
A coroner has called for improved warnings about the dangers of mixing the anti-smoking drug Zyban with other medications.

Hertford coroner Alan Lawson was commenting after recording a verdict of death by natural causes on British Airways stewardess Kerry Weston.

Miss Weston was found dead in a hotel room in Nairobi just two weeks after her GP prescribed Zyban to help her quit her 15-a-day cigarette habit.

It seems to me that it may only be now that there will be a general understanding of the dangers

Alan Lawson, Hertford coroner
Crucially, Miss Weston had also been taking an anti-malarial treatment called Chloroquine. The combination of the two drugs, when mixed with sleeping pills, triggered a deadly reaction.

Miss Weston, from Broxbourne, Herts, was found slumped against the door of her hotel room on January 18. She had suffered a fatal epileptic seizure.

The inquest heard that Miss Weston had a history of seizures, but had not told her GP about this when prescribed Zyban.

More information

Mr Lawson said information given to patients by GlaxoSmithKline should make it clear that "Zyban is incompatible with the anti-malarial drug".

Mr Lawson said: "It seems to me that it may only be now that there will be a general understanding of the dangers of taking Chloroquine and bupropion (Zyban's trade name) in combination.

We vowed to find the cause of her death and try to prevent a similar tragedy occurring

Eddie and Eileen Watson, parents
"It does not seem to be something of which the medical profession is generally, or has hitherto, been aware."

The coroner also criticised GlaxoSmithKline for not giving doctors enough information about how patients should take Zyban.

He said: "More information on the packet is provided for the patient than for the doctor, which seems to be very undesirable."

Miss Weston's parents, Eddie and Eileen said in a statement : "After the sudden death of our daughter Kerry we vowed to find the cause of her death and try to prevent a similar tragedy occurring.

"We are particularly satisfied to note the coroner's remarks for better provision of information for both patients and doctors on the prescription of Zyban."

Effective drug

Zyban has been proven to help nicotine addicts kick the habit, but it has also been linked to the deaths of 37 patients. More than 5,300 adverse reactions had also been reported under the government's yellow card scheme, which logs problems with drugs.

Dr Howard Marsh, of GlaxoSmithKline, told the inquest that there was a one in 1,000 chance that Zyban could induce fits.

However, he said there was no proof that Zyban had caused any deaths - many of which were likely to be the result of smoking-related disease.

He said Zyban should not be used by people with a history of seizures or epilepsy, people with liver disease or people with manic depression.

Zyban has been used by more than 360,000 people in Britain since the treatment was introduced last year.

The drug has been hailed as a major breakthrough in helping smokers to beat their addiction.

Clinical trials

In clinical trials a third of people taking the prescription pills had managed to kick the habit for more than a year, making it twice as effective as nicotine patches.

The drug acts on the brain to quash the craving for nicotine that tobacco produces.

Professor Alasdair Breckenridge, chairman of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, said: "Zyban is used in a population of patients who are put at risk because of smoking and, therefore, reports of deaths of patients receiving Zyban are to be expected.

"Where information is available, the majority of patients who died had underlying conditions that provide an alternative explanation."

He pointed out that about 2% of adverse reports for all medicines result in the death of patients.

For Zyban, the proportion of fatalities is much lower, at about 1% of all adverse reports.

GlaxoSmithKline has said it will advise doctors to tell patients who often travel abroad not to take Zyban together with anti-malarial drugs.

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25 Apr 01 | Health
Anti-smoking drug linked to death
18 Feb 01 | Health
Deaths 'linked to smoking drug'
27 Jun 00 | Health
Smoking 'wonder' drug hits UK
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