By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
The Defense Department is committed to helping troops, their families and all beneficiaries of the TRICARE health care plan reduce their reliance on tobacco products, a TRICARE official said here today.
During an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Paul Fitzpatrick, TRICARE’s “Quit Tobacco” program manager, said TRICARE has increased tobacco cessation aid for beneficiaries.
Tobacco cessation medications and prescription medications now are available to TRICARE patients through military treatment facilities, pharmacies, and TRICARE’s mail-order pharmacy program.
“And we’re very excited to be able to offer these cessation aids to help people quit smoking [and] quit dipping,” Fitzpatrick said.
A Code of Federal Regulations final rule, effective March 29, authorizes the health care organization to implement a more comprehensive program.
“The DOD is committed to creating and maintaining a healthy fighting force,” Fitzpatrick said. “We know that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines use tobacco at a higher rate than the American public.”
Fitzpatrick, who is a retired Army officer, noted that troops’ tobacco use is at a 5- to 10-percent higher rate than that of the public, depending on the age demographic.
“TRICARE estimates that over $500 million are devoted to tobacco-related illnesses and diseases. And those are not just the long-term illnesses like cancer and emphysema. It also includes the short-term consequences of tobacco use, which include an increased number of sick days and longer healing time for those who are smokers and dippers, he said.
“With promotion of a healthier lifestyle, we expect that more people will want to quit smoking,” Fitzpatrick said.
TRICARE now offers Zyban and Chantix, Fitzpatrick said, as well as a whole host of nicotine replacement therapies, including traditional patches, gums, lozenges, nasal spray and inhalers, which now are available through prescription at no cost to the TRICARE beneficiary.
“The development of access to pharmaceutical drugs has been in the works for a couple of years now,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are adding these medications to our host of cessation resources that TRICARE has had in place for a number of years.”
Tobacco cessation medications are available to all beneficiaries age 18 and older in the continental United States. “The prescription medications are currently not available through the mail-order pharmacy overseas, but may be available through the military treatment facility pharmacy, if they carry [them],” Fitzpatrick said.
TRICARE’s tobacco cessation aids also include a 24/7 chat service via instant messaging, toll-free telephone coaching assistance available around the clock, and face-to-face counseling with a certified tobacco cessation counselor that can arranged through a primary care provider.
“Tobacco cessation is very important to the Department of Defense, because we are looking to build and maintain a healthier fighting force,” he said. “And we know that tobacco use is a negative indicator to a healthy force. The DOD wants to be, not a follower, but a leader in reducing tobacco use in the military.”
Fitzpatrick also talked about Operation “Live Well,” DOD’s holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle and healthy living.
“It addresses not only tobacco cessation, but [also] the challenges and threats [of] obesity among our fighting force and our family members, as well as good nutrition,” he said. “Operation Live Well is a program that looks at the entire person and their healthy lifestyle.”