BC Government QuitNow Project

Outreach to income assistance clients wanting to butt out

Jake Adrian

Reprinted from "Tobacco" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (4), p. 25

The Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance announced a $1.27-million pilot project called Quit Smoking Now! This voluntary smoking cessation program available to income assistance clients, including those on disability, began January 22, 2007.

“Giving up smoking is one of the best things our clients can do for their health and a great way to free up money for other living expenses,” said Claude Richmond Employment and Income Assistance minister. “We want to make sure our clients have the best chance possible to quit for good. Through this pilot program we hope to confirm our belief that our clients will choose to quit smoking if we provide them with support.”

Clients who decide to sign up for the program will be provided with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)—skin patches or gum—for three months, as well as counselling support from QuitNow, a free, 24-hour-a-day service operated by the BC Lung Association on behalf of the Ministry of Health.

Through the program, approximately 30,000 clients will be eligible to receive either nicotine patches or gum. This will follow a two-step registration process. First, the client will contact QuitNow and speak with a professional health care worker, who will provide advice on the various NRTs available. Second, the client will sign up for the project through their Employment and Income Assistance office or one of the 17 third-party administration agencies across the province, such as the John Howard Society.

Although the ministry has no statistics on the number of people on income assistance that smoke, the front-line staff have roughly estimated that 30% of their caseloads are smokers. This rate is twice as high as in the general public.

“Since the program was announced, there has been an overwhelming response, with case workers receiving more than 10,000 calls in the first week from clients interested in signing up,” said ministry spokesperson Richard Chambers. “We are surprised and pleased with this response.” To meet the demand, QuitNow has started to ramp up its service levels by hiring and training at least 30 more people, including nurses and counsellors, to answer calls.

Furthermore, according to Chambers, “Sixty percent of our caseloads are made up of clients on disability income. What we’ve heard from the daily reports received from staff is that the vast majority of calls are from people on disability.” However, no additional focus will be given to people with disability, including people with mental health issues, despite the fact that they may have a harder time quitting.

Twelve weeks may not be long enough for people who have been smoking for a decade or more. But ministry officials believe the patches and gum will help people overcome the initial craving, and the free counselling will help to keep their resolve and overcome further addiction issues.

Case workers will not be taking any new applications after the end of March. Three months after the last participant has received their supplies, there will be an evaluation to determine the success and the future of the project. Ministry officials will randomly interview participants, as well as staff, to find out what worked and what didn’t. Continuation of this project will depend on the outcome of this evaluation.

Providing clients with NRTs and counselling on how to quit smoking also supports ActNowBC, an integrated, cross-government, partnership-based approach that helps British Columbians make healthy lifestyle choices. A key pillar of this initiative is to reduce the incidence of tobacco use by 10% by 2010.

BC has the lowest smoking rate in all of Canada, but it still kills almost 5,600 people in this province every year.

 
About the author

Jake was a mental health counsellor for 10 years, working with children and youth living in institutions or on the street. He has recently switched careers to communications