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Rural smokers missing an opportunity to quit

Weak recruitment numbers to the STOP Study, a successful stop smoking program, are surprising health unit personnel.

A week-long tour targeting eight Northwestern Ontario rural communities, including Emo and Atikokan, which offers smokers advice and 10 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy, is not getting the anticipated response.

“This is the third STOP Study tour in Northwestern Ontario. We have deliberately chosen to take this workshop to small communities that haven’t had the opportunity to participate,” said Simon Hoad, Northwest TCAN co-ordinator.

“To reach rural smokers, an information postcard was sent to 12,000 households giving the telephone numbers for registration,” he noted. “We are following up with radio and newspaper ads.

“To date, our sign-up numbers are less than half the 200-plus smokers registered in our two previous tours,” Hoad continued. “We are concerned that rural smokers are missing an opportunity for free nicotine replacement, a practical evidence-based support which we know will help them to stop smoking.”

The STOP Study tour will start tonight (Oct. 20) in Keewatin, and visit Emo, Atikokan, Ignace, Murillo, Shuniah Township, Nipigon, Longlac, and Thunder Bay over the rest of the week.

In March, 2007, 221 smokers attended five STOP workshops held in Dryden, Kenora, and Thunder Bay. Then last November, another 243 smokers attended seven workshops in Fort Frances, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Marathon, Schreiber, and Thunder Bay.

By participating in the STOP (“Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients”) Study, eligible smokers receive 10 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy as gum, patches, or inhalers.

Interested smokers to need to call the contact telephone numbers to see if they qualify.

These three-hour workshops will provide smokers with information on how to use nicotine replacement therapy and assistance in preparing a personal quit plan. Free nicotine therapy also will be available at the completion of the workshop.To find out if they qualify to participate in the study, interested smokers in Emo, Atikokan, and Keewatin/Kenora should call the Northwestern Health Unit at 1-888-404-4231.

Introduced in January, 2006 through a partnership of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, the STOP Study already has provided free nicotine replacement therapy to an unprecedented 30,000 people and helped more than 3,900 Ontarians quit smoking.

Three follow-up telephone calls, spaced over the next 12 months, will help the researchers learn more about the long-term impact of using nicotine replacement on quitting smoking and remaining smoke-free.

To date, at least 12 percent of participants in the study successfully have quit smoking and stayed off tobacco for six months as a direct result of the nicotine replacement therapy supplied by CAMH.

This compares with normal quit rates of seven percent for Ontarians under the age of 45 and three percent for those over 45.

The effectiveness of the nicotine replacement therapy for study participants will be monitored for 12 months. To date, study results have shown an improvement of between two and four times the typical quitting rates.

While smoking rates in Ontario have declined over the past twenty years, 1.6 million Ontarians continue to smoke and 16,000 die each year from the effects of tobacco products.

Studies reveal that attempts to quit smoking are more successful when done with the help of a nicotine cessation aid. However, many people do not use this resource, often due to cost.

By demonstrating the numbers who quit when given free access to nicotine replacement therapies, the STOP Study shows that access is a significant factor.

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