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Tricare Launches Quit-Smoking Program | Families

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Tricare Launches Quit-Smoking Program
Families, Health
Tricare Launches Quit-Smoking Program

 

Air Force Times
by Patricia Kimes

Tricare beneficiaries who want to stop smoking but need help may soon have access to drugs that curb cravings as well as free counseling sessions to help them quit.

Four years after Congress passed a law requiring Tricare to create a smoking cessation program, Tricare Management Activity announced the launch of such a program in a final notice published Wednesday in the Federal Register.

The program will be available at no cost to Tricare beneficiaries, except those enrolled in Tricare For Life. It will include pharmaceuticals (by mail order or military pharmacy only), counseling, access to a 24-hour, toll-free support line, and tobacco cessation information available online and in print.

Tricare was supposed to establish a smoking cessation program within six months of enactment of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act on Oct. 14, 2008.

Some provisions required by the Act, including the helpline and web-based references, were rolled out within that time frame, but officials warned Congress that other portions, including approval of the smoking cessation drugs, would take years to put in place. In fact, the types of medications that will be available under the program still have not been finalized, a Tricare spokesman said.

Several medications on the market are currently prescribed to suppress cravings and other nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Zyban, a brand of the anti-depressant bupropion, is in the Tricare formulary and could easily be integrated into the initiative.

Other products, including nicotine patches, gum and nasal sprays, are not in the formulary and would have to be added.

One of the most popular anti-smoking medications, varenicline, known as Chantix, also is not in the formulary and would require a recommendation from the Defense Department Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee as well as approval by a beneficiary board and Tricare officials in order to be added.

Chantix is banned for military and civilian pilots, air traffic controllers and commercial truck drivers because while it is extremely effective in halting the desire to smoke — by blocking nicotine from brain receptors — its side effects, such as heart arrhythmia, aggression and psychosis, are incompatible with jobs that require strict safety precautions.

About 31 percent of active-duty members smoke, according to the American Lung Association, resulting in health care costs and productivity loss of $1.6 billion a year.

On Wednesday, the association praised the final Defense Department rule for ensuring that “those in Tricare will have access to an evidence-based, comprehensive smoking cessation benefit.”

“This rule will provide millions under Tricare with the tools and support they need to quit using tobacco, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” officials wrote.

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