Half of smokers have tried to quit

A substantial number of smokers have tried – or have good intentions of trying – to give up their cigarette habit, according to a new report by Statistics Canada.

The study, based on 2008 data, indicates almost half of the smokers surveyed tried to butt out in the previous 12 months, and one-third reported intentions to quit in the next month.

Smokers try to quit

“Smokers go through very distinct stages when they’re trying to quit, so the plan to do it in the near future is really an important step to take, compared with those who have no plans at all to quit within the near future or ever. So that’s good,” said Margot Shields, one of the study authors.

A senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society agreed.

“It’s very significant that a third of smokers are considering quitting smoking in the next 30 days, and it just demonstrates how we can achieve to reduce smoking rates in Canada,” Rob Cunningham said.

“We need to do more in terms of government funding for smoking cessation programs, and we need to do more in terms of stronger legislation that would help motivate successful quit attempts.”

Almost one in five Canadians aged 15 or older were smokers in the year the data were collected.

Three-quarters of current smokers had seen a doctor in the previous year, and half of those said a doctor had advised them to reduce or quit smoking. Younger smokers were less likely to get the advice to quit.

Those in the health care field who are aligned against tobacco use say the finding means there’s room for more action by health professionals.

“We know that physician counselling can work to help increase smoking cessation so we need all doctors to be advising their patients who smoke to quit,” Mr. Cunningham said.

“We know that many patients trust their doctors and to have only 50 per cent giving that advice at the moment is not good enough.”

He said provincial governments should review their billing codes to ensure that doctors are adequately compensated to advise and assist patients on quitting.

Ontario has a specific billing code, he added, but the situation varies from province to province.

Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, was concerned that younger smokers are not getting enough advice.

“What can we do to ensure that physicians are alert to the fact that young patients may be smoking?” she asked. “They may not be telling the physician, right? Young people lie to their doctor or physicians don’t think to ask.”

Mr. Cunningham described smoking as the leading preventable cause of disease and death in Canada, contributing to 37,000 deaths in this country each year.

Of the smokers who tried to quit, the report showed that 48 per cent had used at least one pharmaceutical aid. One-third used a nicotine patch, 22 per cent used nicotine gum and 13 per cent used other pharmaceutical-based cessation aids.

Ms. Shields said this is important because previous research has found that smokers who use a formal cessation aid are less likely to relapse compared with those who try to quit on their own.

Mr. Cunningham said that some provinces have removed their sales tax on smoking cessation products and Quebec has a substantial subsidy, “but more can be done in that area.”

As for other stop-smoking aids, he said toll-free quit lines exist in all provinces. “We could improve the awareness of those toll-free quit lines to generate more calls.”

Ms. Callard agreed that more can be done to help persuade smokers to stop for good.

She suggested that health warning messages on Canadian cigarette packages are stale, and the tips to help quit that are printed on the inside need to be revamped.

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