Frequently Asked Questions

Why are nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products free and prescription drugs are not?

PharmaCare covers the smoking cessation prescription drugs bupropion (Zyban®) and varenicline (generics)* in exactly the same way as all other eligible prescription drugs.

PharmaCare covers 100% of the eligible cost of NRTs because they are the most accessible form of smoking cessation aid and PharmaCare wants to give as many people as possible the opportunity to stop smoking.

* Champix® (varenicline brand name) is a partial benefit under PharmaCare. Ask your doctor about the lower cost alternative.

How do I get my NRTs?

Simply visit your local community pharmacy. Both you and the pharmacist must sign a declaration form.

What if I cannot get to my pharmacy to pick up my NRTs?

If your usual pharmacy does not provide mailing/delivery services, you may wish to call other pharmacies who offer this service.

How much coverage do I get each year?

You get up to 12 weeks (84 continuous days) of coverage for one prescription drug or an NRT product in a calendar year (January 1 through December 31). You must order or pick up all of your prescription drug or NRT supply by the end of the 84th day of coverage.

How much medication can I get at a time?

You can get a 4-week (28-day) supply of a prescription smoking cessation drug or NRT product at a time. During the 12-week course of treatment you can get three 4-week fills.

Why can I only get a 4-week (28-day) supply?

PharmaCare limits each fill to 4 weeks (28 days) in case the medication does not agree with you, you need to change the dosage, or you decide to stop treatment. Also, not everyone needs a full 12-week course of treatment to be able to quit. Some people are able to quit sooner.

When do you start counting the 12 weeks of treatment?

You start counting the day you fill your first prescription or when you pick up your first order of an NRT product.

What is the earliest in a year that I can start? What is the latest?

Starting January 1 of every year, a new coverage year begins and your coverage allowance is reset to 84 consecutive days (12 weeks) for that year.

The latest you could start your treatment and still obtain all three fills of medication in the same calendar year is November 6. You can choose to start later than November 6, but you will not use the full 12 weeks of coverage for that calendar year.

Can I start treatment, stop for a couple of months and then start again? 

No. Clinical studies show that people are more likely to successfully quit smoking after sticking to a course of treatment for 12 weeks in a row. The Ministry of Health wants to encourage people to complete a full and continuous course of treatment to maximize their chances of success. For this reason, the program only covers a single course of treatment of up to 12 weeks in a row.

When should I get my refills?

Visit your pharmacy for your refill when you have less than a 14 days’ supply remaining.

How do I get refills of my prescription smoking cessation drug?

If your doctor gave you a prescription for the full 12 weeks, simply visit your pharmacy to get your prescription drug refills. Wait until you have less than a 14 day supply left to ensure maximum PharmaCare coverage.

If your doctor wrote you a prescription for a shorter course of treatment (e.g., 8 weeks of your smoking cessation drug), you will need to visit your doctor again to see if you need more medication.

Do I have to return to the same pharmacy for my NRT refills?

No. You can pick up your NRT refills at any community pharmacy.

You can pick up your refills of bupropion (Zyban®) or varenicline as you would for any other prescription drug.

I stopped taking my medication partway through my 12-week course of treatment. Can I start up again at a later date?

Once you fill your first prescription or get your first supply of an NRT product, the 12-week (84 day) coverage period starts. You have to pick up all 3 fills of the medication or NRT product before the end of that 84-day period.

If you stopped for a week or two, you would still be able to get all three fills within the 84 days. If you stopped for a month or more, however, your coverage may run out before your last refill order.

See If you tried to quit but start using tobacco again for more information on when you will be able to get coverage again.

I had a reaction to the smoking cessation medication. What should I do?

Prescription smoking cessation drugs and NRTs can have side-effects. Some of them are mild and some can be serious.

It’s a good idea to discuss these side effects with your doctor or pharmacist.

What if I react badly to a prescription smoking cessation drug or NRT product?

If the reaction is serious, call your doctor or 9-1-1. If the reaction is mild, call your doctor or pharmacist, or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 for advice.

To learn more about what kinds of side effects you might feel, refer to QuitNow’s Quit Medication Guide.

Switching from an NRT product to a prescription drug

If you react badly to an NRT product and want to switch to a prescription smoking cessation drug, you will usually have to wait until the next calendar year before PharmaCare will provide coverage.

PharmaCare may cover the eligible costs of the prescription drug in the same year as the NRT product if your doctor agrees to send a Special Authority request to PharmaCare for the switch. Special Authority requests are evaluated on an exceptional case-by-case basis only and depends on how far along each patient is in their course of treatment.

Switching from one prescription to another prescription

If you react badly to one prescription smoking cessation drug, your doctor can prescribe the other drug. Your doctor will need to get permission from the PharmaCare Special Authority program for the switch before PharmaCare will cover the new drug. Requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Switching from a prescription drug to an NRT product

If you paid the entire cost of the prescription smoking cessation drug without any PharmaCare contribution:

If you react badly to a prescription smoking cessation drug and want to switch to an NRT product, you can get the product free of charge if you paid the entire cost of the prescription.

If PharmaCare paid part or all of the cost of the prescription smoking cessation drug:

If PharmaCare paid any part of the prescription cost, you may be able to get an NRT product at no charge in the same year, but only if your doctor recommends it for medical reasons. Your doctor will need to send a Special Authority request to PharmaCare for the switch, asking for additional coverage on your behalf. Requests are evaluated on an exceptional case-by-case basis and depends how far along each patient is in their course of treatment.

Switching from one NRT product to another NRT product

If you started with an NRT product and want to switch to a different NRT product, you can request this at your pharmacy when you go for your next refill.