10/04/2012 02:19 EDT | Updated 12/04/2012 05:12 EST

150,000 B.C. smokers aiming to kick habit access free drugs, nicotine patch, gum

VICTORIA - About 150,000 British Columbians with an urge to quit smoking have taken advantage of a government program that provides free drugs or a supply of nicotine replacement gum or patches.

The 24-hour-a-day program was launched a year ago and is accessible by calling 811 for smokers aiming to kick the habit with one of two prescription drugs or the alternate therapy that acts as a nicotine substitute.

The Health Ministry says an additional 40,000 people have obtained a prescription for a smoking cessation drug while visiting their doctor for another reason.

Smokers who register for the program are also eligible for more support from QuitNow, which is operated by the BC Lung Association.

The ministry says more than 11,000 people have registered for QuitNow web, text and telephone support, which now includes a chat service that offers no-wait coaching to help people quit smoking.

Premier Christy Clark, a former smoker, says she knows how hard it is to stop and that the program gives people a chance to live healthier lives.