A 12p nicotine substitute that could save the NHS millions of pounds a year will not be available on prescription for at least two years.
Tabex can increase a smoker’s chances of quitting threefold and has been in use for 40 years in eastern Europe, but the UK’s “Alice in Wonderland” regulatory system will prevent it from becoming available for between 24 and 36 months, and expert said.
Professor Robert West, from the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London, led a trial of the substitute.
Experts believe Tabex, which contains the active ingredient cytisine and is obtained from laburnum seeds, is as effective as conventional stop-smoking treatments.
Prof West predicted that internet orders of the drug would sky-rocket.
But a spokesperson from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which licences drugs for sale in the UK, warned: “People are advised that they should take prescription-only medicines after an appropriate consultation with their GP.”