If the provincial government is serious about convincing more British Columbians to butt out, it should listen to the advice of the Canadian Medical Association and cover the full costs of smoking-cessation products.
As it is, only Quebec smokers are reimbursed when they purchase the nicotine patch, nicotine gum or other quit-smoking therapies. In Prince Edward Island and the Yukon, those trying to kick the habit are eligible to be reimbursed for at least one product.
In a recent editorial appearing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the CMA laments the fact that Canada is falling behind many other countries when it comes to helping its citizens cope with the high costs of quitting - something it calls an "insurmountable barrier" for smokers.
"In Australia and the United Kingdom, where drug insurance is provided to all citizens, reimbursement is available without restriction for all smoking cessation products, including prescription medications and over-the-counter nicotine replacement," the editorial states. "In the United States, smoking-cessation products are reimbursed by Veterans Affairs and Part D Medicare."
Obviously Canada has a long way to go to catch up.
As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of picking up a cigarette well knows, the smoking habit is much more than a simple choice to light up. Smoking tobacco is an addiction - one that is just as difficult to shake as dependencies on alcohol, cocaine or, for that matter, heroin. Recognizing the benefits of changing destructive habits, the provincial government already pays for methadone treatment for junkies or naltrexone for alcoholics.
Why are smokers treated so differently?
The CMA suggests it's due to the social stigma attached to cigarettes, as if there is none associated with drug addiction or chronic alcoholism. It's as though the powers that be believe giving up tobacco is simply a matter of throwing away the cigarettes and choosing not to smoke.
Generations of smokers who suffer ill health thanks to the nasty habit and the millions of dollars spent in our cash-strapped health-care system treating the terrible consequences of smoking should be enough evidence to suggest that is not the case.
Smokers need help and the government should do what it can to give it to them.
Perhaps there is a role for the federal government when it comes to solving what amounts to a national health-care issue. With federal direction, a national set of standards for funding smoking-cessation products could be developed, with all the provinces forced to buy in to the program.
The CMA says funding for quit-smoking products should come out of the "substantial tax revenues" collected on the sale of tobacco products. Smokers have long believed they shoulder an unfair tax burden. By putting some of that money into programs designed to help them quit, maybe they'd feel as though they were getting something for their money.
And considering the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses, the decision to pay for stop-smoking products should be considered a good investment.