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MAKING A MARK: Hampton Roads researchers hope to help people quit smoking

The CDC says smokers may be at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness. Researchers are working on a new therapy and they're looking for people trying to quit.

NORFOLK, Va. — Smoking has been linked to increased risks of developing cancer, lung disease, and other illnesses. Now, there are questions about its relation to COVID-19.

"There are estimated to be nine million premature deaths every year worldwide due to smoking," said Dr. William Smith, CEO of the Alliance for Multispecialty Research. 

"Just because of the heart and the pulmonary disease that we know are associated with smoking, the CDC has said that there is a probable link between smoking and severe cases of COVID infections."

The Alliance for Multispecialty Research is studying a plant-based drug known as 'cytisinicline' or 'cytisine', which could help people quit smoking. "It stops your cravings to want to smoke," said Smith, "but at the same time it blocks that little surge we get with smoking from the nicotine at the time we're smoking."

Dr. Smith said some daily smokers have tried to stop but failed without support. The company is enrolling people in a clinical trial called ORCA-2, which offers treatment and counseling. 

"They're going to be followed for how it's working," said Smith. "So, it's the drug in combination with a smoking cessation program."

Dr. Smith said the pandemic is motivating people to stop smoking, and the trial could help them finally break the habit. "We want to hit this problem from multiple different points when we're trying to help someone quit," said Smith.

The ORCA-2 clinical trial is happening in 15 cities nationwide. Locally, it's at AMR Norfolk, 6161 Kempsville Road, Norfolk, VA 23507. 

The company's website is https://amrnorfolk.com/

The program is for any daily cigarette smokers who have failed at least once at quitting, with or without therapy. It is free to join, and participants will be compensated. To enroll or learn more, call 757-627-7446 or email NVArecruitment@amrllc.com.