A smoking cessation program for the BC Public Service
Reprinted from "Workplaces" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (3), p. 27-28
In October 2007, the BC Public Service Agency launched Quittin’ Time, a five-month smoking cessation pilot program. This program is now available to approximately 35,000 employees working for the government of British Columbia. The goal of the program is to support employees and their family members in their efforts to quit smoking. The BC Public Service Agency, with its Corporate Human Resource Plan Being the Best,1 aims to be recognized as a leader in public service excellence in Canada.
Thirteen percent of BC Public Service employees smoke. While this is lower than the provincial average of 16.4%,2 smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in BC. Smoking can cost an employer over $3,000 per smoker each year in health care costs, absenteeism and productivity losses.3
Quittin’ Time offers employees and family members a smoking cessation program, which can be tailored to each person’s specific needs. The program design is based on smoking cessation research.4-7 We also used the expertise and experience of partners at the BC Lung Association and Ministry of Health.
A first big challenge was creating or finding a quitline service that met our high security and privacy needs, and we were fortunate to find this in our home province of BC. In choosing to work with an existing service provider, the challenge was then to make sure the service met the specific needs of our Quittin’ Time program.
The program has four main parts:
Telephone-based counselling: This is provided by a program of the BC Lung Association called QuitNow By Phone. This quitline counselling service has been enhanced for BC Public Service employees and their family members. They receive several additional outreach support calls during the critical first stages of quitting on top of what QuitNow typically provides. The service also confirms participation in counselling, so employees are eligible for extended health reimbursements.
Extended health plan reimbursement: Health benefits were expanded to cover recommended nicotine replacement therapy or eligible prescriptions for people in the program.
Support for employees: Awareness is enhanced by providing information for managers, supervisors and employees. A web-based information resource* provides a variety of helpful smoking cessation tips and includes regional resources such as the Employee and Family Assistance Program.
Positive social marketing strategy and incentives: A social marketing and incentives campaign reinforces the positive benefits of quitting. The marketing strategy targets all employees, including managers and supervisors, smokers and non-smokers alike, to make sure that all are well informed and supported at the worksite. Key messages include: smoking is an addiction that needs the support of all of us; quitting with support increases success—you don’t have to quit alone; the program can change your life; smoking is a major cause of death and disease—helping employees to quit is the right thing to do. Incentives have included, for example, recognition cards to acknowledge smoke-free milestones and a participant draw for iPods.
Moving Quittin’ Time forward
Strong executive and leadership support was an important initial component of the program. In fact, Quittin’ Time used this support in a very visible way. We featured BC Public Service deputy minister—and ex-smoker—Larry Pederson on one of our large promotional posters.
The BC Lung Association, Ministry of Health and ActNow BC have been key partners in moving Quittin’ Time forward. They’ve shared information and resources and have provided expertise. We’ve worked together with all our partners to problem solve and find the best way to run the program.
Also very helpful is regular feedback from program participants. Participants are invited to make comments and suggestions directly by e-mail.
Now in its second year . . .
Just over a year has passed since Quittin’ Time first launched. This has been enough time to hear about some success stories. The Corporate Health and Benefits team reports that they mostly hear stories of success. This includes the statistic that, as of mid-January 2009, approximately 36% of those public service employees who smoke (or smoked) have participated in the Quittin’ Time program. This is far better than the usual rate of 1% to 4% for quitline participation.8-9
While hard numbers are important, equally important are the comments from program participants about the support they received during their quit process. Many of these success stories come from long-time smokers, and speak to the value of several parts of the Quittin’ Time program. This includes the extended coverage and the support of telephone-based quit specialists (counsellors). One successful participant, who shares her story on the Quittin’ Time website, highlighted the value of quit specialist support:
“My first appointment with the counsellor set the tone for the next month. She was incredibly supportive, gave me a number of tips, was totally non-judgmental (unlike me!) about the fact that I was still smoking while pregnant and helped me develop a plan to quit . . . My second phone appointment was with a different counsellor who offered me all sorts of additional tips and really made me feel great about how well I was doing. He supported me to continue with one [per] day for another week and to stick with my plan to quit on January 31. We booked another appointment for quitting day and I felt confident I could achieve the goal.”
An evaluation of Quittin’ Time is currently underway. The goal is to find out how many participants quit smoking and have stayed smoke-free over time. This assessment will help us decide whether this program has been successful in terms of our ultimate goal: reducing the number of BC Public Service employees and family members who smoke.
While the evaluation data is not yet in, the high participation rate, positive results and encouraging participant comments provide good support for continuing the program. It seems clear from the participant feedback received so far that Quittin’ Time has already been successful.
* For more information, visit www.quittintime.gov.bc.ca
About the authorMaureen has worked at the BC Public Service Agency for several years, in a research and communications capacity, supporting policy and corporate health areas. She recently took on the role of Manager of Mental Health Programming for the BC Public Service, and continues her studies in addiction at McMaster University
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