Smoking cessation program milestone achieved thanks to partners across Canada

People with cancer who stop smoking can improve their survival by about 40 per cent1. However, quitting isn’t easy to do.

Help is now available at nearly every cancer centre in Canada, and the Partnership congratulates partners from across the country whose outstanding work made this possible. As of May 31, 2022 (World No Tobacco Day), 87 per cent of cancer centres offer smoking cessation supports—up from just 26 per cent in 2016—as a result of more than five years of collaboration and Partnership funding.

This means almost all people with cancer are now screened for smoking, advised on the benefits of quitting, and offered smoking cessation support.

Quitting smoking after a cancer diagnosis can be a very difficult thing to do. Our smoking cessation program uses a multi-disciplinary team approach to support the needs of our cancer patients anywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador who want to quit.

Providing access to cessation support, with a trained health professional and medications, removes barriers to quitting smoking and our patients know we are there to help them quit which is among the best things they can do along their cancer journey.

-Scott Antle, Manager, Cancer Screening, Cancer Care Program, Eastern Health

Helping people quit smoking before cancer treatment starts

People with cancer who quit smoking before treatment2:

  • benefit from more effective cancer treatment
  • have fewer complications and recover faster from surgery
  • are less likely to have their cancer come back or get another kind of cancer

That’s why the Partnership has supported partners to make sure that people with cancer in Canada can receive help to quit smoking, allowing for the most effective cancer treatment and the best quality of life. Having smoking cessation supports located right in the cancer centre means that in their first visit to their oncologist, a patient will be screened for smoking and also immediately referred to a program that can help them quit.

The approach is effective because it connects people directly with support to stop smoking as a part of their cancer treatment plan.

It has been well documented that smoking cessation in cancer care greatly improves patient outcomes. Free nicotine replacement therapies at point of care have made the quit journey for Saskatchewan Cancer Agency (SCA) patients easier, and for some possible.

SCA is committed to continued funding for this service.

-Lana Dean and Yvonne Fong, Oncology Pharmacists, Saskatchewan Cancer Agency

Developing culturally appropriate smoking cessation supports

There is still work to be done. So far, culturally appropriate smoking cessation supports for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people with cancer are available in 45 per cent of cancer centres and that is expanding.

For example, the Canadian Cancer Society has launched a Partnership-funded, Indigenous-specific quitline called Talk Tobacco in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The quitline provides culturally safe smoking cessation support in 24 Indigenous languages.

Supporting access in rural and remote areas

Access to smoking cessation counselling and medication remains challenging for some, particularly those living in rural or remote areas – an issue that has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Partnership has provided additional funding to partners so they can explore new approaches to better support people. This includes offering smoking cessation counselling by telephone, mailing out smoking cessation medications, and providing financial help for those who don’t qualify for subsidized or free medications.

Northwest Territories provides a great example of how to address access challenges in remote areas. Although the territory covers the cost of smoking cessation medications, many people couldn’t access them because they were only available in pharmacies – and most remote communities don’t have pharmacies. Community health centres, meanwhile, which are more common across the territory, can only supply medications that are listed on the territorial formulary. To solve this, NWT revised the formulary and will be making smoking cessation medications available at community health centres.

More about the Partnership’s role in helping people with cancer quit smoking

In addition to providing funding, the Partnership established the Pan-Canadian Tobacco Cessation and Cancer Care Network and published an evidence-based Action Framework, a business case to improve access to smoking cessation medications and a map of financial coverage of smoking cessation medications in Canada.

Providing smoking cessation in cancer care supports the implementation of the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control. Among the Strategy’s actions are the promotion of smoking cessation among people with cancer and working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations to develop culturally appropriate smoking cessation approaches.

Work continues in 2022/23 in the provinces and territories to sustain the gains made over the last few years.

Learn more about progress across Canada to help people quit smoking.

1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA; 2020
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA; 2014