Smokers in Northern B.C. are lighting up more often than their counterparts in other areas of the province after a study shows the percentage of smokers in Northern Health’s region surpasses the provincial and national average.
A report from Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada that documented tobacco rates country-wide noted that in Northern Health’s jurisdiction 23.1 per cent of people were smokers, compared to the provincial percentage of 17.4.
Canada-wide it is 20.8 per cent.
It’s not a surprising statistic according to Julie Kerr, who is the Director of Population Health with the Northern Health Authority.
“This is the way it always is. B.C. typically has the lowest rates in all of Canada, but the Northern B.C. rates are much worse,” she said.
The rate in Northern B.C. is so high it works out to about one in four people are smokers.
The factors are wide ranging but some of that comes down to how people in the north live compared to more urbanized areas down south.
“There are a number of things. Some of it has to do with a Northern ‘live hard, play hard, die hard’ mentality where we tend to have a bit of a pioneering spirit and be risk takers as opposed to risk averse,” she said.
Smoking rates are also higher in industrial work, such as work camps. In those settings people may turn to cigarettes or other substances to combat things like boredom.
“Tobacco, among other substances, become ways of dealing with loneliness and boredom,” Kerr said.
Strong links also exist between tobacco use and other factors such as poverty and low literacy, she said.
Northern B.C. smoking rates are typically steady, around the 22-to-25 per cent usage rate. As of this study the north is roughly back to 2008 levels.
“We continually have our work to do around tobacco use in the north,” said Kerr.
Among their strategies are working with young parents.
“One of the best predictors of whether someone will be a smoker is whether they’re raised by smokers or not,” Kerr said.
They work with parents directly and by delivering messages to students in schools, which they hope they take back to their parents.
“Tobacco rates in general over time are coming down but we just need to sustain the pressure on it.”
The province has aided the fight against tobacco use with a new program beginning September 30 where B.C. will cover the cost of nicotine replacement therapies.
Premier Christy Clark made the announcement for the program back in May. Under the plan, citizens can get either nicotine gum or patches to help quit smoking with a free 12 week supply.
The cost for the program is estimated to run between $15 and $25 million.
“That levels the playing field a little bit where maybe people before only had access to that if they were well employed,” said Kerr.
Through Northern Health, they’ll also be offering more group counseling sessions as demand has doubled for counseling over the past 24 months. Kerr said that group sessions tend to be as successful or more over one-on-one.
People can receive information on smoking cessation programs at northernhealth.ca.