Three in five support removing barriers to nicotine replacement therapy

The Irish Cancer Society is calling on the Government to make sure medical card holders don’t face unnecessary barriers to accessing Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).

Donal Buggy, Head of Services and Advocacy at the Irish Cancer Society said: “At the moment, people with medical cards need a prescription from their GP to get quit supports like NRT. This puts up an extra barrier for people who want to quit, and can place additional pressure on GP services.”

Currently, people without medical cards can purchase NRT without prescription from their pharmacist. “This means that medical card holders, who are often from the most deprived areas and are twice as likely to smoke as those living in the most affluent ones, can find it difficult to get the support they need.

“We’re calling for the Minister for Health to introduce legislation to make sure they no longer need to get a prescription for NRT.”

A recent survey carried out by the Irish Cancer Society showed that three in five people are in favour of removing the need for a prescription for NRT for medical card holders, while almost three in five felt that the state should do more to support smokers to quit. “People need support on their mission to quit smoking for good and we need to encourage greater use of NRT to help smokers to quit and stay quit. Pharmacies need to be equipped, not only to dispense NRT, but also to provide the psychological supports most likely to ensure that a quit attempt is successful.”

At any given time, the majority of smokers are thinking about quitting, and most have made a number of unsuccessful attempts to quit. In Ireland, half of those attempting to quit do so without assistance but those who access NRT along with psychological supports are significantly more likely to quit and stay quit.

“We know that all forms of NRT make it more likely that attempts to quit succeed. The chances of stopping smoking are increased by 50 to 70%.”

Currently, of the 3.76 million people aged over 15 living in Ireland, 22%, or just under 864,000, are smokers. The Government has set a smoking rate of less than 5% by 2025 in its Tobacco-Free Ireland Strategy.

Mr Buggy said: “To achieve this ambitious target, we need to make sure that 676,000 fewer people smoke in Ireland by then.

While there is no one action that will make this a reality, allowing equal access to NRT for medical card holders will go some way to enabling current smokers to become ex-smokers.”

The call from the Irish Cancer Society echoes a similar one from the IPU last year.

Speaking last year IPU President Daragh Connolly said:

“The evidence suggests that medical-card holders are likely to need support to successfully quit smoking.

“This is a scheme that can be easily and quickly implemented as, from a professional perspective, no further training for pharmacists is required. Pharmacists have been safely providing a smoking cessation service to private patients since 2014.

“The IPU believes that there should not be barriers on GMS patients accessing smoking cessation services or any other service from their pharmacist. Therefore, we particularly advocate for the rollout of this service as an after-hours service, as these are times of particular vulnerability for smokers.”

The IPU said the Department of Health’s 2015 Healthy Ireland Survey found that more than one in five (22.7%) people smoke.

A range of NRT products are available in pharmacies. NRT treatment can significantly increase the chance of success if used correctly. Options include:

• Patches – These work by continuous release of nicotine which is suitable for regular smokers. Patches available
include a 16-hour patch and a 24-hour patch.

• Gum – Helps to control the cravings when they occur. There are various flavours to choose from and various strengths which allow a step–down reduction programme.

• Nasal Spray- Is fast acting which is helpful for highly dependent smokers.

• Sublingual tablets – These are discrete. Place under the tongue and dissolve over 20 minutes.

• Inhalers – These act as a cigarette substitute and are useful for smokers who miss the hand-to-mouth action

• Lozenges – Various strengths are available which allow a step down reduction programme.

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