Suicide blamed on anti-smoking drug


He decided to quit smoking to improve his health. But the pills that were supposed to help him kick the habit and ensure better health seemed to do the opposite – and within six weeks he was dead.

In February last year Chris van Zyl, a 52-year-old Metro policeman in Centurion, Gauteng, asked his doctor to prescribe something to help him to stop smoking. During the first month of using Champix, made by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, he seemed normal, according to his family.

But they say his behaviour started changing four weeks into the course, when he started on the second pack of pills.

About a week later Chris withdrew almost completely, according to his kids. “My dad was usually an extrovert but that week he just didn’t speak,” says his son, Dawid (20). “He wasn’t at work from the Monday to the Thursday and he slept most of the time, getting up about four times a day to make coffee for himself. He didn’t eat.”

Chris was supposed to have gone back to work on the Friday but called his office to say he was ill. At about 9.30 that morning he shot himself.

An information pamphlet enclosed with the Champix tablets warns against side effects such as depression and suicidal tendencies but Chris’ family read them only after his death. What they found strange was that the doctor who a few months earlier had prescribed antidepressants for Chris also prescribed this anti-smoking medication.

To find out more about Champix, other cases of suicide and what manufacturers and experts have to say read Alet van Zyl and Katlego Mkhwanazi’s article in YOU 31 January 2013.  

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