N.L. looks at covering the cost to quit smoking

Andrew Robinson
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The provincial government is taking a look at whether it would be a beneficial investment for the health-care system to cover the cost of products and drugs that help people quit smoking.

This news comes as others continue to suggest that such efforts are cost-effective. Most recently, the retiring head of CancerCare Manitoba, Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, told the Winnipeg Free Press that a fully funded program to make nicotine patches and medications free will save provincial governments money.

Last fall, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) released a position paper calling on the province to subsidize the cost of nicotine-replacement therapies and smoking-cessation medications for low-income residents through the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP).

Citing information from multiple reports, the NLMA found that smoking costs Newfoundland and Labrador tens of millions of dollars in health-care costs and employment productivity. Estimates from more than a decade ago related to the annual health-care cost ranged from $79 million to $95 million.

In a statement issued to The Telegram, the Department of Health and Community Services indicated it’s giving that idea some consideration.

“Public funding for smoking-cessation products is being examined to see how it could further complement initiatives already in place to reduce tobacco consumption and exposure,” it said.

The NLMA indicates it has met with officials from the department on multiple occasions since the release of its position paper.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco was amongst several organizations that endorsed the NLMA position paper. Kevin Coady, the organization’s executive director, said a subsidized smoking-cessation program for low-income residents makes sense.

“We know that the percentages of smoking increases in the lower-income brackets, so for that reason, we believe if government could find a way to include cessation treatments under the prescription drug plan ... you’d be getting at a group of people who have a higher rate of smoking.”

While he understands that by logic, one might argue those who can afford to purchase tobacco products regardless of their level of income should also be able to afford smoking-cessation products and medications, he said that’s not always the case.

“The reality is they can get cigarettes at any given time much cheaper than they can get one order of the patch or whatever it might be — the drugs that are available.”

Varenicline (cost: $3.37 per day) and bupropion ($1.60) are two drugs that the NLMA recommended for coverage under the NLPDP.

According to a document prepared by the Ontario government’s committee to evaluate drugs, the cost of nicotine replacement therapies varies from $2.90 to $6.30 per day.

The NLMA position paper said varenicline reduces nicotine cravings, decreases its pleasurable effects and prevents withdrawal symptoms. Bupropion also reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The paper notes that the cost to publicly fund therapies and drugs to quit smoking will likely be incurred over a 12-week period and would compare favourably with annual medical costs associated with treating smoking-related illnesses.

The paper suggested a tobacco sales tax increase could help fund an expanded smoking-cessation program. In March, the province did increase that tax by 1.5 cents per cigarette, a move the government estimates will generate an additional $8 million in tax revenue for a total of $146 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick are the only Canadian provinces not offering some form of subsidization for nicotine-replacement therapies and smoking-cessation drugs.



Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, Winnipeg Free Press, Department of Health and Community Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance for the Control of Tobacco

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • heather
    January 04, 2014 - 06:26

    live in Ontario........not on welfare......grin....on Canada Disability Pension......and still poor....lol...but I digress.......we are able to get the script for the pills to help you quit smoking from your dr. here and it is covered by provincial drug plan....and the public health unit handles the patches,,gum,,mints,,inhalers,,etc......................my husband and I who had both been smoking since we were ohhh lets just say aprox.30 years now......smile......have quit as of july 25th.......and I don't miss it.......................

  • H Jefford
    January 02, 2014 - 13:51

    The government has made Billions of dollars from tobacco sales taxes, and will make Billions of dollars more!, If a person is ill from a substance that the government has made Billions of dollars from than they should help pay for a cure

  • david
    January 02, 2014 - 11:08

    Very recent research done on smoking says that a very effective way to get people to stop is to simply make it less affordable. File this morsel under: "Sorry, life's hard" ..... instead of the already over-full folder: "Insanely Unaffordable, Completely Ineffective, But Politically Opportunistic BS".

  • Thomas
    January 02, 2014 - 10:54

    Looks like the narrow minded living in your mother's basement crowd are alive and well this morning. The majority of folks who avail of the prescription drug program in the province are the low and middle income working folks, individuals who are living with a physical or mental disability as well as seniors on a fixed pension.

  • ron
    January 02, 2014 - 10:39

    If you can afford cigarettes, you can afford your own smoking-cessation drugs. End of story.

  • Me
    January 02, 2014 - 09:44

    An easier solution is to ban cigarettes altogether. We will get some bootlegging but most smokers will be grateful in a few weeks. I was. I gave up and it's the best thing I ever did. No patch, no hypnosis, just cold turkey. Not easy but it would have been easier if there was nothing available. Then the welfare crowd would have money to buy food but it would probably go for more beer.

    • Donna
      January 02, 2014 - 10:09

      How do you know they would probably buy beer? Don't judge everyone else on your standards.

    • Me
      January 02, 2014 - 16:38

      Donna ... I don't know. That's why I said probably. Welfare and EI are good systems until they are abused. Great idea to help somebody when they are down but not because they are lazy. Talk to taxi drivers and ask how often they are used by welfare and what they deliver when a working taxpayer lives next door and has to walk because he can't afford a car. They get caught in the system and stay there for life. How many signs "Now hiring" have we seen the past few years and we still have too many on welfare.

  • david
    January 02, 2014 - 09:09

    It's like the desperate guy at the casino who pulls off his gold watch for one more roll of the dice : he goes home broke AND not knowing what time it is.

  • Chris
    January 02, 2014 - 07:21

    WOW...What i wouldn't give to be on Welfare!!! Kick the working poor again NL Government!!

    • Donna
      January 02, 2014 - 09:30

      What does receiving welfare have to do with it? Give it a try and see how you like it.

    • Robb
      January 02, 2014 - 12:20

      Well Donna, from the look of your commentS you must be on welfare yourself, otherwise you certainly would be upset with having to pay for these creeps to sit back and smoke and drink, and play pull tickets. Now before you lose a kidney, I will say that the welfare system does help some, just not most. And again before you lose a kidney, I have seen these creeps all too often. I mean, just go to Sobeys on welfare day, and you will see the show. They all have the money for the smokes, and most just reek of stale smoke...again, don't even try to defend Donna, it is out there for all to see. The solution, as soon as someone goes on welfare, the clock starts, and give them a certain amount of time to get their act together...this lifelong welfare system has got to stop. Period.

    • Donna
      January 02, 2014 - 14:30

      What difference does it make whether I have welfare or not. Would I have less of a right to make a comment? Either way, I don't stoop to making bigoted, uninformed statements about entire groups of people.

    • Robb
      January 02, 2014 - 17:51

      And like I said Donna, don't lose a kidney, as my comments are far from uninformed. Eye-witness accounts just don't lie. And nothing bigoted about it....facts are facts, and I am sick and tired of having to pay top dollar taxes to keep "many" creeps on their couches, just playing the system. You know who you are...