POLITICS

Free nicotine patches, gum to Ontario smokers being treated for other addictions

01/18/2012 11:40 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario will spend $4.5 million over the next three years to help nearly 23,000 smokers in addiction-treatment programs quit.

The province will pay for counselling and a five-week course of over-the-counter nicotine gum and patches for addicts undergoing treatment, Health Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday.

About 60,000 addicts are currently seeking treatment in Ontario and 38 per cent of them smoke — about twice the rate of the general public, she said.

"The people who are still smoking are having the most difficult time quitting," she said.

"So we really need to focus more and more on people who are facing real challenges. The research tells us that of those who enter an addiction treatment program, more die from tobacco-related disease than all other causes combined."

Helping people butt out will also strengthen Ontario's health-care system in the future by preventing smoking-related diseases, Matthews said. Tobacco kills about 13,000 people in Ontario each year.

It's often the first substance that people become addicted to and the last one to go, said Dr. Peter Selby, an addiction expert.

"When people come in for addiction treatment, we don't say, 'Oh, you're here for a crack problem. You can continue to take a break and have a drink at the bar across the street because that's not really a problem for you,'" he said.

"But we do that with tobacco."

Raymond Corless, 67, said he was a smoker for 49 years before health problems prompted him to get help.

He gradually cut down from his usual habit of smoking about 50 cigarettes a day, thanks to the counselling he received and the nicotine patches and inhalers he used, Corless said.

Aug. 31 was the day he decided he didn't want to smoke cigarettes anymore, said Corless, who spoke at the government news conference to announce the initiative.

"Actually, that morning I went out and bought a package of cigarettes," he said. "I looked at them when I went home and I put them in the refrigerator. And to this day, they're still sitting there."

Matthews said the government is helping other smokers quit by funding drugs like Champix and Zyban through the province's public drug benefit program.