How do we reduce the number of smokers in Canada? Send them free nicotine patches through the mail, a new study says.
Seeing as we’re well into January now, it’s time to make good on those New Year’s resolutions professed in the heat of the moment way back in 2016. Along with standards like hitting the gym, spending more time with family and getting off Facebook once and for all, quitting smoking is surely one of the most proclaimed -and most broken- resolutions.
Every year, some 60 per cent of smokers resolve to quit over the upcoming six months, yet studies show that making good on the promise is far from a cakewalk. Only two per cent of those resolving to quit end up fully free of the habit, and smokers can take an average of 30 quit attempts before meeting with success.
Those numbers speak to the difficulty of quitting and the firm grasp that smoking addiction can have on a person, yet the news is not all grim.
According to the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit there is a strong correlation between length of time quitting and ensuing success rate: people who have remained smoke-free for one month have a 24 per cent chance of really kicking the habit, while those abstaining for a whole year have a 71 per cent chance of quitting for good.
While half of successful quitters did so without any external help, for the remaining smokers, studies show that the most effective pharmaceutical aid is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), said to increase the chance of quitting for good by as much as 50 to 70 per cent. Coming in forms such as the nicotine patch, gum or inhaler, NRT is now on offer to those requesting it, free of charge, by many provincial health agencies across Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Health, for example, boasts of having provided free patches to over 80,000 residents over the past twelve years through its Smoking Therapy for Ontario Patients (STOP) project.
Giving out free NRT products is not only cost-effective, it has also been shown to increase both the odds of quitting as well as treatment satisfaction by its users. But in the interest of saving health care dollars (smokers cost the health care system an average of $3,071 a year or $18.7 billion in total annually), health researchers are now asking whether we should be proactively seeking out smokers to give them free NRT products rather than waiting for them to arrive at provincial health doorsteps.
That’s the option being explored in a new study led by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and the Faculty of Pharmacy and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Researchers random-telephoned over 43,000 households across Canada to find 500 adults who identified as daily smokers (at least ten cigarettes per day) and who expressed interest in receiving five weeks of free nicotine patches through the mail. Offering no other cessation support, the study found that eight weeks after the commencement of the program, 10.9 per cent of participants had used all of the NRT patches, 47.5 per cent had used some and 41.6 per cent had not used any of the patches. The researchers call the results “encouraging,” as they show that well over half of participants had made at least some form of attempt to quit.
“The mailed distribution of free nicotine patches to smokers at large can be effective at promoting cessation, particularly among financially disadvantaged groups, those with previous experience in using it and among individuals with already advanced intent to quit,” say the study’s authors whose research is published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
For those thinking of quitting for 2017, the Canadian Cancer Society offers a smokers’ helpline to get you started.