Pharmacy helps smokers quit

Keely Dakin
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Smokers who want to quit and think they could use some help or information now have the option to work directly with a pharmacist.

Safeway Pharmacy has joined pharmacies around the province in the Partnership to Assist with Cessation of Tobacco (P.A.C.T.)

Pharmacists, Lindsey Hlewka and Nicole Zelensky, seen outside of Safeway Pharmacy on Tuesday afternoon. Both have been trained to assist people to quit smoking by using the Partnership to Assist with Cessation of Tobacco (P.A.C.T.) program. The program is free.

P.A.C.T. has had a 30 to 50 per cent success rate since it began in 2004, said Lindsey Hlewka, one of the two pharmacists trained to guide quitters through the P.A.C.T. program.

“It’s a free program funded by P.A.S. (Pharmacists Association of Saskatchewan),” Hlewka said.

“It’s a program designed to lead people through a personalized process to increase their success,” Nicole Zelensky, the other pharmacist, said.

The program begins with two one-on-one sessions with either Hlewka or Zelensky, during which they talk to the person who is interested in quitting about the program and then give them a workbook.

The book, created by P.A.C.T., contains detailed information about what is happening in their bodies, the dangers of smoking and the benefits of quitting. It also lays out questions designed to help smokers understand their mental dependency on smoking, not just their physical addiction to nicotine.

The addictive properties of nicotine are impressive.

“Milligram for milligram it is more addictive than heroin,” Hlewka said.

While it only takes between two weeks to a month for the nicotine to leave the body, the habit of smoking can be much more difficult to change.

Zelensky can relate personally to the struggle with tobacco, as she also used to smoke.

“I do still struggle with it,” Zelensky said.

Many people must attempt to quite smoking several times before it sticks.

The average Canadian smoker tries to quit 3.4 times before succeeding, while one in five attempt four or more times before succeeding.  

As part of the P.A.C.T. program, clients get check-in phone calls from their pharmacist to help keep them on track.

“We follow them for up to a year, after the two follow-up sessions,” Zelensky said.

Normally this works out to be about 10 follow up calls over the first year.

“You do get to know those people quite well,” Zelensky said.

The physical benefits of quitting can be seen quite quickly, Hlewka said.

“Your lung function improves by 50 per cent in as quick as three months,” she said.

“Circulation improves by 30 per cent in six months,” she added.

Others benefits take a little longer.

“Milligram for milligram it is more addictive than heroin,” Hlewka said.

The chance of contracting lung cancer is reduced by half after 10 years.

Both pharmacists are currently working with between 20 and 25 patients who are participating in the P.A.C.T. program.

It is a heavier workload for the whole pharmacy when two of their number are focused on P.A.C.T.-related work one day a week, so the entire staff at Safeway Pharmacy makes the program doable, Hlewka said.

Of the nearly 50 people who are going through the program at their pharmacy since it began about four months ago, a few of each pharmacist’s clients have managed to be smoke-free since the beginning.

“I have about four that have been smoke-free for the whole duration of the project,” Zelensky said.

“I have five that are in day 60,” Hlewka said.

Patients range in age from 20 to over 70 years old.

Most of them, however, tend to be a little older.

Often people become interested in quitting following the death of a loved one due to poor health, such as heart attack, stroke or cancer.

“The main reason that we see people come in is when their health is declining, “ Zelensky said.

Tobacco use in Saskatchewan is one of the highest in the country, Hlewka said.

As of 2007, the percentage of smokers in Saskatchewan was 24 per cent, according to Hlewka.

In Prince Albert that number is one per cent higher.

Since 2009 there has been an increase in the youngest denomination of smokers and a decrease in those 20 years and older.

Those between 15 and 19 years of age make up 21 per cent of Saskatchewan smokers, which is an increase of two per cent since 2009.

Twenty to 24-year-olds make up 25 percent of all smokers in Saskatchewan, which is a decrease of three per cent.

Smokers between 25 and 44 make up another 25 per cent, which is also a decrease of three per cent since 2009.

Hlewka said the reason for the increase in younger smokers is unknown. However, she said, it may be that the younger generation is once again viewing smoking as a cool activity.

Organizations: Association of Saskatchewan, Safeway Pharmacy

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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