Ask the Pharmacist: BC Smoking Cessation Program

By: Stefanie Black
Pharmacist and Travel Clinic Manager at Thrifty Foods Pharmacy James Bay

This is the time of year when people set New Year’s resolutions and often one of those resolutions is to quit smoking. Tobacco-related illness is the leading cause of preventable death in British Columbia, causing up to 6,000 deaths each year. Reasons to quit smoking or tobacco use: whiter teeth, fewer wrinkles, hair and clothes won't smell of smoke, improved sense of taste and smell, improvement in breathing and general fitness level, faster healing, and fewer complications after surgery. Plus you'll have more money- a pack of cigarettes a day adds up to more than $3000 a year!

People have many different reasons why they want to quit, and these are just a few of the potential benefits. After you quit smoking, benefits can be seen as early as eight hours when carbon monoxide level drops in your body and the oxygen level in your blood increases to normal. After 48 hours, your chances of having a heart attack start to go down, and your sense of smell and taste begin to improve. After two to three months, your lung function increases up to 30 per cent. After six months, your coughing, stuffy nose, tiredness and shortness of breath improve. After one year, your risk of a smoking-related heart attack is cut in half.

The BC Smoking Cessation Program helps eligible BC residents who wish to stop smoking or using other tobacco products by covering 100% of the cost of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products (nicotine gum, lozenges, patches, inhaler), or contributing to the cost of specific smoking cessation prescription drugs. Each calendar year, you can receive a single continuous course of treatment up to 12 weeks: either one course of prescription medication or one course of NRTs, not both. The products will be dispensed 28 days at a time. For patches, this means 28 patches dispensed and you return four weeks later. This is a little different for the as needed products such as the gum or lozenges. You will be dispensed an amount that should last for 28 days but often will last longer. You should come back after 28 days and receive more. If you have your first supply filled but do not start right away or start and then stop, you may not be able to pick up the remaining two months, as the program is designed to be a continuous 12 weeks.

To get nicotine replacement therapy products, visit your local pharmacy. Both you and the pharmacist must sign a declaration form and decide on the right product for you. There is no need to see a doctor or be registered for BC PharmaCare.

For prescription smoking cessation, PharmaCare covers two drugs, bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Champix), the same way it covers other prescription drugs. To get coverage, you have to be registered for PharmaCare, which is an income-based plan. Registration is free and there are no premiums to pay. How to receive the medication: check if you’re registered with PharmaCare by calling Health Insurance BC, and see your doctor and ask if one of the prescription smoking cessation drugs is appropriate for you. Take the prescription to your pharmacy where you will sign a declaration form and be given a 28 day supply of your new medication.

For those who are about to quit smoking, there are lots of resources available, including, which provides one-on-one support and valuable resources (in multiple languages) to help you plan your strategy. Planning increases your chances of success!

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