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.