The predictable flood of New Year’s resolutions to get healthy and quit smoking has the B.C. government bracing for a big uptake in its free anti-smoking program.
B.C.’s Health Ministry expects orders for nicotine-replacement therapies — such as gum, patches or prescription pills — to spike this month and into March, as some smokers decide to start the year by kicking their habit.
It’s part of “seasonality to quit patterns” and the “tremendous uptake” seen in early 2012 during the program’s first full year, said Health Ministry spokesman Ryan Jabs.
The government launched the smoking-cessation program in September 2011, and said it was pleased that it has filled more than 161,453 orders.
People are eligible, once a year, for a free, single, continuous 12-week course of prescription smoking-cessation drugs, or a free supply of gum or patches.
Traditionally, the cost of most anti-smoking supplies hasn’t been covered by the government.
So far, 23,752 people on Vancouver Island have filled smoking-cessation orders, in some cases more than once since 2011, the government said.
The prescription anti-smoking drugs covered by the B.C. government include varenicline (sold under the brand-name Champix in Canada and Chantix in the U.S.) and bupropion (Zyban).
Champix-maker Pfizer Canada and Pfizer Inc. are currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit launched in part by Colwood resident Patricia Clow, whose 22-year-old daughter committed suicide in 2009 after taking Champix to help her quit smoking.
The class-action suit alleges that some people developed psychological side-effects that might have included suicidal urges — a claim Pfizer has denied.
Doug Lennox, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the first U.S. trial of a Chantix lawsuit was scheduled for October 2012, but it settled a few days before trial.
“The second U.S. trial of a Chantix lawsuit is set for Jan. 22, 2013,” Lennox said in an email.
“We are following this case with interest to see whether it also settles, or if it proceeds to verdict.”
The lawsuit hasn’t changed B.C.’s coverage of the drug, which the government said has been approved as safe by the federal regulatory agency, Health Canada.
Almost 40,000 people in B.C. were on a prescription for Champix as of Nov. 30, 2012, according to ministry figures.
“There has been no impact on the program, though we are aware of the class-action lawsuit and are keeping up-to-date with any new information,” Jabs said.
“We will continue to monitor for new information and will adjust the program as necessary.”
Approximately 550,000 people in B.C. smoke, although the government said B.C. has the country’s lowest smoking rate at 14.3 per cent of the population.
The free anti-smoking program cost taxpayers $17.6 million as of last November, which the Health Ministry has said is within the program’s budget of $15 million to $25 million a year, depending on interest.
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