Availability, Sales, and Affordability of Tobacco Cessation Medicines in Kerala, India

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India is the world’s second largest consumer of tobacco, but tobacco cessation remains uncommon due, at least in part, to underutilization of cessation pharmacotherapy. We evaluated the availability, sales, and affordability of nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion, and varenicline in the South Indian state of Kerala to understand potential reasons for underutilization.

Methods and Results—

From November 2016 to April 2017, we collected data on availability, inventory, and pricing of cessation medication through a cross-sectional survey of 199 public, semiprivate (Karunya), and private pharmacies across 5 districts in Kerala using World Health Organization/Health Action International methodology. Revenue and sales data were obtained from the latest Pharmatrac medication database. We assessed affordability using individual- and household-level income and expenditure data collected from November 2014 to November 2016 through the Acute Coronary Syndrome Quality Improvement in Kerala randomized trial. Cessation medications were not available in public hospitals (0%, n=58) nor in public specialty centers (0%, n=10) including those designated to provide cessation services. At least 1 cessation medicine was available at 63% of private pharmacies (n=109) and 27% of Karunya (semiprivate) pharmacies (n=22). Among the 75 pharmacies that stocked cessation medications, 96% had nicotine replacement therapy, 28% had bupropion, and 1% had varenicline. No outlets had sufficient inventory for a patient to purchase a 12-week treatment regimen. There were an estimated 253 270 treatment regimens sold throughout India and 14 092 in Kerala in 2013 to 2014. Treatment regimens cost 1.9 to 13.0× the median amount spent on smoked tobacco and between 8% and 52% of nonsubsistence income.


Tobacco cessation medications are unavailable in the Kerala public sector and have limited availability in the private and semiprivate sectors. When available, medications are unaffordable for most patients. Addition of tobacco cessation medication onto national and state essential medicines lists may help increase access.

Clinical Trial Registration—

URL: https://www.clinicaltrials.gov. Unique identifier: NCT02256657.

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