updated 3/23/2005 9:27:12 AM ET 2005-03-23T14:27:12

Government officials say “you’re never too old to quit smoking.”

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So, Medicare will immediately start covering the cost of counseling for certain beneficiaries who want to quit tobacco.

Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, says the new smoking cessation program “has great potential to save and improve lives for millions of seniors.”

However, not every Medicare beneficiary qualifies for the new benefit -- only those who have an illness caused by tobacco use or complicated by tobacco use.

And it covers only counseling sessions, not the cost of nicotine patches and gum or products pitched to help smokers quit.

Medicare officials say they don’t have an estimate of how much the new program would cost or how many people would be eligible for it.

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