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Province to help smokers quit

Smokers looking for a breath of fresh air this summer won’t need to drive up the lake to get it, thanks to new funding for smoking cessation medications by the province.

Beginning Aug. 4, Ontarians under the Ontario Drug Benefits Plan or Ontario Works as well as First Nations individuals will not have to pay for prescriptions of Champix and Zyban. Both drugs are nicotine-free and target the addictions centre in the brain where they “tweak” the chemicals, said Safeway pharmacist David Schwartz.

“By themselves, they won’t provide everything a person needs, but they will certainly be one more tool they can use to help themselves,” he said.

The province is covering the drugs along with smoking cessation counselling. Schwartz said that may include any opportunity to talk to a health professional, including a pharmacist, about how to go about quitting smoking.

“Stopping smoking is extremely difficult and different people have different things that they need to do that,” he said.

“It’s actually a cycle people go through: not thinking about quitting, thinking about quitting, making a plan to quit, actually quitting, and then they do it all over again...

“Most people [try] three, four, five, even six or seven times before they quit for good, but each time they go through the cycle, they learn about what prompted them to start up again and so this is why we also want to point out to people that you have to keep at it, don’t just start smoking again, think, ‘Ah, that’s it, I’ll never do this,’ and forget about it.”

The Ontario Lung Association said in a release that if these prescription drugs were available to all who want to quit, the resultant reduction in tobacco-related illnesses could save the provincial health care system nearly $3 billion in 10 years, and up to $36 billion in 30 years.

“If you can prevent a disease from occurring or prevent complications then so much the better: it’s better for the patient, better for the system, better for everybody,” Schwartz said.

Locally, there are various options for people looking for help quitting, regardless of their health care coverage.

The North West Health Unit can recommend aspiring quitters to local support groups, but one of their top recommendations is smokershelpline.ca, which has online resources and a text messaging support program.

The United Native Friendship Centre offers a number of smoking cessation programs, including a four-step program for expectant mothers.

“It’s available to prenatal moms and we also encourage the dads to come because it’s easier for the mom and the dad to quit together rather than one and not the other,” said Kerry Zub, aboriginal pre-natal nutrition co-ordinator for the UNFC.

“If they go through the sessions with us and they’re able to quit smoking before baby comes, we can offer them a coupon for $50 a month [each month] that they remain smoke-free for up to a year after baby is born,” she added.

The UNFC also offers free nicotine replacement therapy and counselling through its Urban Aboriginal Healthy Living Program.

Schwartz said adding Champix and Zyban to the Ontario Drug Benefits plan could go a long way towards helping those who are ready to quit.

“My hope is that, number one, that we can improve the awareness of problems associated with smoking. Hopefully we can encourage more people to seek out more information about stopping smoking.”

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