After 15 years of smoking and countless attempts to quit, Eryn Collins has finally put her nicotine dependance behind her.
The Prince George resident is approaching two years smoke-free and said it's taken perseverance and a variety of different tactics to kick a habit she knew was bad for both her health and pocketbook.
"It was a long time and it was a lot of money and it was a lot of damage to myself that I didn't need to do," she said.
After trying everything from prescription medication to the patch to gum, Collins finally found the right quitting formula for her - peer pressure. She publicly vowed to give up the habit and blogged about it on the Northern Health website.
"I think the added potential for a major guilt trip finally helped me do it for good," she said.
Collins' story fits a pattern that Northern Health population health tobacco reduction coordinator Nancy Viney sees all the time. Quitting is difficult and she said tobacco users need support as they try and try again to stop smoking.
"It's a chronic relapsing disease where people who quit, they often take five to seven times to quit," she said.
Each smoker will respond better to different quitting methods. While gum might work for some people, inhalers are a better option for others. A one-year-old provincial program gives people access to different types of cessation treatments and has proved popular in the region.
Nearly 150,000 British Columbians ordered free nicotine replacement treatments, including over 10,000 from Northern Health's area. With an estimated 56,000 smokers in the region, Viney said having nearly one in five access the program in the first 12 months is a great start.
The provincial program will fund nicotine replacement gum or patches for 12 weeks or one round of treatment from a prescribed smoking cessation drug. Since people can access the program once each calendar year, Viney said anyone who wants to try to quit now can get 24 weeks of coverage because their account will reset on Jan. 1. The program can be accessed by calling the 24-hour provincial hotline at 8-1-1.
Although the program wasn't available when Collins was giving up smoking for good, she hopes that the availability of the treatments will push people considering quitting to make the plunge.
In addition to blogging, Collins also used the challenge on the B.C. Lung Association's QuitNow.ca website as a way to raise the profile of her attempts to kick the habit.
"I'm amazed, I'm really proud of myself and I'm just glad that it's over," she said of approaching the two-year mark next month.
Smoking rates have been in decline for years, but the number of people smoking in the north is still higher than some other regions of the province. That presents a two-pronged challenge, not only are there more people to target with cessation campaigns, there's also a culture of smoking in some communities which leads to more people starting to using tobacco products.
Viney said Northern Health is encouraging all healthcare professionals to do "brief interventions" whenever possible. That means asking patients if their tobacco users, advising them to quit, assessing if they're ready to give up tobacco, assisting them in accessing resources and arranging follow-up care.
"Rather than having a handful of counsellors providing counselling, we're moving towards having all healthcare professionals aware of the importance of addressing tobacco addiction," Viney said. "If healthcare providers address tobacco then we'll probably have an increase in quit rates."
The next step for Northern Health is to set up group counselling sessions in communities throughout the region for people trying to quit. Viney said the added support network could help people get through some of the challenges of withdrawal.
Eventually Viney would like to reach a point where smoking tobacco is relegated to the history books.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get rid of a substance that kills half the people who use it," she said. "If we could create an environment where kids do not start smoking, we'd be done with it pretty quickly."