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Northern researcher promotes better ways to help people quit smoking


A habit that is the top cause of preventable premature death in Canada is more common in northern Ontario than in the rest of the province, says researcher Dr. Patricia Smith.

Yet Smith said most programs to help people quit smoking only offer basic counselling and nicotine therapies, which she said tend not to be effective.

"When we say 'stop smoking' ... all we're doing is giving people advice and not helping them set the stage," said Smith.

"You really need what we call intensive programs -- programs that have at least eight sessions with them."

Smith said the reason they are rare is because they are expensive to deliver.

That's why she's working with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine to figure out how to introduce it to communities across the country, with the help of just more than $300,000 from the federal Healthy Canadians and Communities Fund.

It's especially needed in northern and rural Ontario, she said, where twice the number of people under age 45 smoke, compared with the rest of Ontario.

Smith said up to 15 per cent of smokers will find brief counselling and nicotine gum sufficient help to quit.

However, her research piloting a smoking cessation intervention program in northwestern Ontario claims success in some areas:

• Up to 35 per cent success rate for the general population

• Around 50 per cent for Indigenous communities

• Around 70 per cent of patients with heart disease

Smith's research also poses that incorporating smoking cessation intervention into existing substance use disorder treatment programs would prove beneficial as well, since around 80 per cent people with substance use or mental health issues also smoke tobacco.

Centralizing smoking intervention programs at one local health agency or hospital in each community is one way Smith is proposing they could be rolled out in a sustainable way.

Smith is also working with First Response Mental Health to develop a customized version of its mobile mental health app, PeerConnect, as a possible avenue to deliver information and peer support for smokers, as well as connect people to services in their area.

While communities like Timmins do have access to some smoking cessation programs, one local woman said quitting has been a challenge and has been looking for an effective solution.

"Unfortunately, it isn't going so well, as I have started (smoking) again but would really like to quit for good," said Karen Bradbury in a Facebook message.

"I just find that there is no support for people quitting smoking in Timmins."

Smith's project is focusing primarily on helping younger people, Indigenous and rural populations and the 2SLGBTQ+ community, since smoking is most prevalent in those groups.

Smith also intends to consult with smokers who've tried to quit to learn about the challenges they've faced.

"What do they see as their concerns, their barriers? Why do they smoke? Why is it higher among certain groups? We're going to find all of that out," Smith said.

The federal government has a goal of reducing tobacco smoking to five per cent of Canadians by 2035. Top Stories

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