Methods and medications

Find the options that best suit you.

Accessing prescription medications and nicotine replacement therapy in BC

You can get coverage for up to 12 weeks for one of the following two options:
prescription medications or Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).

More about your coverage

Prescription medications

Prescription medications do not contain nicotine but reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms by affecting how nicotine interacts with your brain. Using quitting medications can increase your chances of quitting smoking successfully. It's even more effective when combined with counselling support.
Brand Name
PharmaCare BC Coverage
Blocks effects of nicotine
Covered by PharmaCare BC
More detailsHide details

General information

Varenicline (Champix®) is only available by prescription to your doctor. It blocks the effects of nicotine and reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you start smoking again while taking the medicine, you won't feel as satisfied. This improves your chances of quitting.

Varenicline (Champix®) is one of two prescription medications covered under the PharmaCare BC Smoking Cessation program.

Learn more about your coverage.


Evidence suggests that varenicline is the most effective medication for helping people quit. When used as directed, there is evidence that varenicline can increase your chances of quitting successfully.


Varenicline works by changing the way the brain reacts to nicotine. It makes it harder to get pleasure to nicotine and also helps to reduce cravings by blocking the receptor in the brain that responds to nicotine. Other advantages include:

  • It's easy to use
  • It does not contain nicotine

Common side effects

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gas and constipation
  • Insomnia and abnormal dreams
  • Headache
  • Mood & behavioural change

How to use

Varenicline is available as a pill that you take by mouth. 

  • Start taking varenicline one week before you quit smoking. This builds up the level of medicine in your body.
  • Continue to smoke as usual while taking varenicline until your quit date.
  • The recommended dose of varenicline to help you quit smoking is:
    • Days 1-3: take one 0.5mg tablet once a day.
    • Days 4-7: take one 0.5mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
    • Day 8 to the end of treatment: take one 1mg tablet twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
  • Take varenicline after eating and with a full glass of water to decrease the nausea and vomiting side effect.

Warnings & precautions

As with any prescription medication, there are benefits and risks to taking varenicline. Health Canada has determined that for varenicline, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Heart or stroke events

Talk to your doctor if you have any changes in cardiovascular symptoms, including:

  • Chest discomfort for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. 
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. 
  • Shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or feeling lightheaded associated with chest discomfort.

Get emergency medical help right away if you have symptoms of a stroke, including: 

  • Weakness or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg even if temporary. 
  • Trouble speaking, even if temporary. 
  • Vision problems, even if temporary.

Do not use if

Do not use varenicline if one of the following applies to you:

  • Have an allergy to varenicline.
  • Currently using nicotine replacement therapy (like gum or patch). The combination of taking both does not increase your chance of quitting and increases the likelihood of experiencing side effects.
  • Less than 18 years old.
  • You are pregnant.

Speak to a doctor or pharmacist

About whether varenicline is right for you if one of the following applies to you:

  • Depression or other mental health problems
  • Breast-feeding
  • Kidney problems
  • Currently taking medications such as insulin, theophylline, or warfarin

Stop taking if

Stop taking varenicline and speak to your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Agitation
  • Changes in behaviour that are not typical
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
Makes smoking less pleasurable
Covered by PharmaCare BC

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) works by providing the body with nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. NRT is one of the most effective tools to help people quit and can increase your chances of quit success. It's even more effective when combined with counselling.
Release Type
PharmaCare BC Coverage
Nicotine gum
Good for occasional smokers
Covered by PharmaCare BC
Nicotine lozenges
Different strengths available
Covered by PharmaCare BC
Nicotine patch
Good for heavy smokers
Covered by PharmaCare BC
Nicotine inhaler
Choose how often to use it
Covered by PharmaCare BC
Nicotine mouth spray
Choose how often to use it
Not covered by PharmaCare BC

Combination Nicotine Replacement Therapy

What is combination NRT?

Combination NRT is using two forms of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to increase your chance of successfully quitting, as follows:

  • Long-acting NRT (nicotine patch) to provide steady levels of nicotine.

  • Short-acting NRT (gum, lozenge, inhaler or spray) to help reduce breakthrough cravings or deal with challenging situations. 


  • Combining a long-acting nicotine patch with a short-acting NRT like nicotine gum, when used as directed, can increase quit rates compared to using a single NRT product. 

Who are good candidates for combination NRT?

Combination NRT may be appropriate for people who:

  • Have used NRT in previous quit attempts but relapsed while using it.
  • Feel they need something more than a patch or other single form of NRT to deal with intense cravings to smoke.

Talk to your doctor prior to using any kind of combination therapy, including combining NRTs, or combining prescription smoking cessation therapy with NRTs. Be sure to review how to use each NRT product properly, including the warnings and precautions for each product.

Other methods

There are other quit methods and approaches that people use to quit, but some are more effective than others. Read more about which methods will increase your likelihood of quitting in the long run.
PharmaCare BC Coverage
Reduces pleasure to nicotine
Not covered by PharmaCare BC
E-cigarettes / Vaping
Reduces exposure to harmful chemicals
Not covered by PharmaCare BC
Gradual reduction
Keep you engaged in a positive behavior change
Not applicable by PharmaCare BC
Alternative therapies
Variety of options available
Not applicable by PharmaCare BC
Cold turkey
Not applicable
Not applicable by PharmaCare BC

Questions about symptoms or your health?

Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider to understand how different medications will interact and about your personal health.