01/23/2013 01:38 EST | Updated 03/25/2013 05:12 EDT

New government plan aims to help Ontario residents butt out for good

TORONTO - A new government plan aims to make Ontario the province with the lowest smoking rates in Canada.

Health Minister Deb Matthews says the province will provide $2 million over two years to help people hospitalized for smoking-related illnesses stay smoke-free after they recover.

She says another $810,000 over the same period will go toward cutting smoking rates in 25 targeted occupations, including the mining and construction sectors.

Matthews announced the initiative Wednesday as part of the annual National Non-Smoking Week awareness campaign, which began Sunday and continues through Saturday.

The minister says the move is in addition to an existing program that has 41 community health centres across the province dispensing over-the-counter smoking cessation products at no charge.

Government data show 13,000 Ontario residents die from smoking-related illness each year, and tobacco-related disease costs the province $1.93 billion in direct health-care costs annually.

“We have to do everything we can to help people quit when they want to quit,” Matthews said.