B.C. quit-smoking plan attracts critics

B.C.'s plan to fund nicotine patches and gum for smokers has been lauded by the Canadian Cancer Society and other health organizations, but the program has its detractors.

Premier Christy Clark and cancer survivor Denton Bailey announce program to fund nicotine therapy starting Sept. 30.

VICTORIA – B.C.’s plan to fund nicotine patches and gum for smokers has been lauded by the Canadian Cancer Society and other health organizations, but the program has its detractors.

Public feedback since the program was announced in May include a variety of criticisms, according to documents released by Premier Christy Clark’s office under freedom of information legislation.

The program is set to start Sept. 30. It will provide people up to 12 weeks’ supply of over-the-counter nicotine gum or patches, or prescription pills approved by the Pharmacare program. The government estimates it will cost $15-25 million a year, depending on how many smokers sign up.

“As a physician, I am a bit ambivalent about your decision to fund nicotine replacement, as along with the drug there is also need for counselling and follow-up,” said one response posted on B.C.’s new open information website.

Others objected to the decision to spend millions on nicotine replacement, while diabetics and other chronic disease patients have to pay to treat conditions they did not bring upon themselves. A Kelowna resident cited the example of treatment for his wife’s sleep apnea, including $100 a month in medicine and $2,000 for a machine recommended by her family doctor and cardiologist.

“I honestly believe it is outright wrong to pay for this when smokers made a choice to start smoking and continue to make a choice every time they light up,” he said.

A former smoker who quit before nicotine replacement was available also objected.

“I realize [nicotine replacement] is expensive, but so are cigarettes,” the ex-smoker wrote. “If a person is desirous of quitting, then don’t buy cigarettes, buy the patch instead.”

Others urged the B.C. government to extend the program to cover stop-smoking treatments that use lasers, acupuncture and other treatments. Several hypnotherapists sent a form letter urging the government to extend coverage to their form of smoking treatment.

The health ministry estimates that more than 6,000 B.C. residents die from tobacco use each year. Tobacco-related illnesses cost an estimated $2.3 billion a year, $605 million of which is direct health-care costs.