Australia’s federal government has announced that it will subsidize the cost of nicotine patches to help smokers quit. The announcement was made by Health Minister Nicola Roxon on Thursday who said that concession card holders would be able to access Nicorette, Nicabate P and Nicotinell under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from February 1, 2011. She said, “Cancer scars the lives of too many Australians and we know that reducing the smoking rate is one of the most effective ways to reduce the rate of death from this terrible disease.” Anti-smoking drug Varenicline (Champix) would also be available for willing quitters.
Anti-smoking group Quit applauded the effort saying that increase in the tobacco tax earlier was a big motivating factor and this move is a vital support to quitters. Spokeswoman Fiona Sharkie said, “These two policies together will really help smokers butt out for good.” Ms Sharkie said the cost of a four-week course of nicotine patches was currently between $100 and $140, and the smallest available pack of patches cost two to three times as much as a pack of cigarettes. But under the new subsidized arrangements, smokers who get a doctor’s prescription for patches can receive a four-week course for approximately $5.40 to $33.30, she added. The Australian Council on Smoking and Health welcomed the move too. President Mike Daube said, “We do know that smokers see the cost of patches as a disincentive to buying them… This gives them a financial boost, it also means that one of the important barriers to quitting is no longer there.” He added, “Smoking costs the economy over $30 billion a year, so the price we pay for subsidising these patches is minimal in comparison with the overall costs of smoking.” The package announced is to cost $340 million.
As an addition to the PBS there is Dutasteride (Avodart) that treats benign prostate enlargement and Azacitidine (Vidaza) that treats bone marrow disorders. Those with rare blood disorder Paroxysmal Nocturnal Haemoglobinuria (PNH) will have access to the new life-saving drug Soliris (Eculizumab) from January 1, 2011. Ms Roxon said, “I know this will be welcome Christmas news to those 73 patients across Australia needing access to this very expensive drug.”