h e a l t h p r o m o t i o n
NLMA calls on province to include tobacco cessation therapies under the NLPDP
On November 8, the NLMA released
a position paper calling on the provincial government to fund tobacco cessation
medications and nicotine replacement therapies for low-income residents
as a benefit under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program.
By Jonathan Carpenter
On November 8, the NLMA released a
position paper calling on the provincial government to fund tobacco
cessation medications and nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) for
low-income residents as a benefit under the Newfoundland and
Labrador Prescription Drug Program (NLPDP).
“There has not been a significant decline
in the province’s smoking rate since 2003. It currently stands at about
20 per cent of the population or about 87,000 people over the age of 15.
If we want to see our smoking rate decline, than we must turn our
attention to helping current smokers quit,” said NLMA President Dr. Tony
“When smokers use NRTs and cessation
medications, they increase their odds of quitting by as much as
threefold… Unfortunately, access to these therapies is not universal for
everyone. Low income, lack of education and other socio-economic factors
are all barriers to accessing tobacco cessation aids.”
The NLMA’s Position Paper on Coverage
for NRTs and Tobacco Cessation Medications recommends that the
tobacco cessation medications varenicline and bupropion be covered by
NLPDP and distributed through pharmacies for smokers who have a
prescription from a physician. The NLMA also proposes that smokers who
meet the NLPDP’s criteria should receive a free supply of NRTs for up to
12 consecutive weeks in a single calendar year.
The position paper proposes that NRTs be
distributed by the Smokers’ Helpline, a toll-free confidential telephone
service that anyone in the province can call and receive free support
and counseling to quit smoking. Once a smoker is approved for coverage,
a Smokers’ Helpline CARE Fax Referral would be automatically generated
by NLPDP and sent to the Smokers’ Helpline. A counselor would then
follow up with the smoker and assist them in choosing an appropriate
method of NRT. They would receive the NRT either by mail or at their
“The evidence clearly indicates that use
of pharmacotherapy combined with counseling is the most effective
approach to treating tobacco addiction and is the key to maximizing quit
rates,” said Mary Lynn Pender, director of the Smokers’ Helpline.
“Every day we hear individual clients talk
about the financial barriers which prevent them from availing of these
very effective medications. As an established, successful service with
over 10 years of experience in providing programs, consultation and
leadership in smoking cessation, the Smokers’ Helpline is ideally
positioned to partner on this initiative.”
Kevin Coady, executive director of the
Alliance for the Control of Tobacco (ACT), explained that the call to
subsidize tobacco cessation therapies was also included in ACT’s
2009-2011 Tobacco Reduction Strategy and will continue to be a key
action item outlined in the soon to be released 2013-2017 strategy.
“The Newfoundland and Labrador Alliance
for the Control of Tobacco is anxious to see government offer cessation
help to people who meet the criteria for coverage under the province’s
Prescription Drug Program,” said Coady.
“ACT believes now more than ever is the
time to focus on cessation. Every possible step must be taken to help
those who use tobacco find a way to beat this addiction,” he added.
The NLMA contends that the cost of
subsidized tobacco cessation therapies could be funded by increasing
provincial tobacco sales tax.
Dr. Gabriel explained that helping smokers
quit could potentially mean huge savings for the province’s health care
system, given that the cost of cessation therapies pales in comparison
to the millions of dollars spent each year treating smoking-related
heart disease, cancer, Type-2 diabetes and numerous respiratory
“As long as NRTs and tobacco cessation
medications are not available through NLPDP, the retail cost of these
therapies will remain prohibitive to people with the lowest incomes and
the highest smoking rates,” said Dr. Gabriel.
“If we want to reduce our smoking rate,
lessen the economic burdens of tobacco use and prevent smoking-related
illness in our province, then we must eliminate the barriers people face
in accessing affordable cessation therapies.”
In addition to ACT and the Smokers’
Helpline, the position paper has been endorsed by the Association of
Registered Nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador; the Newfoundland and
Labrador chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society; the Newfoundland and
Labrador Public Health Association; the Heart and Stroke Foundation of
Newfoundland and Labrador; and the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung
Position Paper on Coverage for NRTs and Tobacco Cessation Medications
is available on the NLMA website.