Trends in Use of Medications for Smoking Cessation in Medicare, 2007-2012

Am J Prev Med. 2016 Sep;51(3):301-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.02.018. Epub 2016 Mar 30.


Introduction: Smoking-related disease accounts for 10% of Medicare expenditures. Although clinical guidelines recommend smoking-cessation medications, they are subject to safety warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This study investigated trends in utilization of smoking-cessation medications in Medicare from 2007 to 2012.

Methods: Data on medical claims and prescription drugs for a nationally representative sample of Medicare beneficiaries were used to study trends from 2007 to 2012 in use of smoking-cessation medications (bupropion, nicotine-replacement therapy, varenicline), among beneficiaries who used tobacco (N=205,675). Analyses were conducted in 2015. Multinomial logistic regression was used to examine differences in use of bupropion, nicotine-replacement therapy, varenicline, or more than one medication, relative to none, by beneficiaries' health and demographic characteristics. Binary logistic regression calculated average predicted probabilities of cardiovascular disease or depression among medication users before and after FDA safety warnings related to those conditions.

Results: Sixteen percent of tobacco users ever filled a prescription for a smoking-cessation medication. The proportion of beneficiaries who filled prescriptions for varenicline increased in 2007 but sharply declined corresponding to public warnings about adverse effects, although the same trends did not occur for bupropion or nicotine-replacement therapy. After FDA safety concerns were published, the average predicted probability of beneficiaries filling varenicline prescriptions with cardiovascular disease declined by 31%, although the average predicted probability of depression did not decline.

Conclusions: Use of smoking-cessation medications among Medicare beneficiaries remains low. Health effects of Medicare policies that increase coverage for medical support for smoking cessation may be limited by low utilization of effective medications.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bupropion / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotinic Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Prescription Drugs / administration & dosage
  • Prescription Drugs / adverse effects
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices / statistics & numerical data
  • Tobacco Use Cessation Devices / trends*
  • United States
  • Varenicline / adverse effects
  • Varenicline / therapeutic use


  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Bupropion
  • Varenicline