Cutting back on smokes helping health of homeless in Comox Valley

A smoking cessation program is popular with those living on the fringes of society in the Comox Valley.

NURSE EILEEN GILLINGHAM

A smoking cessation program administered by Care-A-Van volunteers is proving popular with those living on the fringes of society in the Comox Valley.

In April, the Comox Bay Care Society took over operation of the mobile medical unit initiated in 2009 by the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society. In July, the non-profit organization launched the quit smoking program for homeless individuals and for those at-risk of homelessness.

The program helps people gain access to a free service offered by the Province.

One man has cut back from three packs to two cigarettes a day over the course of nine weeks. While pleased with his progress, the 61-year-old says those lingering cigarettes in the morning and afternoon “make it tough.” He calls it a “love-hate relationship” when it comes to tobacco.

“My health has gotten a lot better,” said the man who prefers to remain anonymous. He has smoked since the age of six.

“I wouldn’t have been able to walk up those stairs without having a rest,” he added, beckoning to a short flight of stairs leading to St. George’s United Church in Courtenay. “I had pneumonia about five years ago, and ever since then it was really downhill fast.”

He relied on puffers for a time, but since cutting back he has been able to walk without stopping for a rest. He also cycles.

The man has another three weeks to go in the 12-week program — the fourth to be launched by the Care-A-Van, which also provides health care, dental and optometry services.

Nurses, doctors and pharmacists register Care-A-Van users for nicotine replacement therapies such as the patch or the gum. The team also provides counselling on a weekly basis to help clients remain smoke-free. Counselling from a health-care professional is estimated to increase the chances of quitting by 30 per cent.

An estimated 70 per cent of homeless individuals are smokers. Those who quit decrease the risk of cardiovascular and lung diseases. An additional benefit is cost savings.

“If you don’t address smoking, then in the latter years they develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Care-A-Van co-ordinator Helen Boyd said, noting ensuing hospital stays are “extremely costly.”

Low-income individuals who can save $50 a week can invest the money in transportation, housing or food, she added.

“Health-wise it’s a huge impact,” Boyd said, noting energy boosts self-esteem which helps a person to move forward and tackle things such as finding work. “It’s a commitment for them to come every week.”

The mission of the Comox Bay Care Society is to improve access to health care and related services through relationship building with the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness in the Valley.

For more information or to donate visit www.comoxbaycare.org.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com

 

Fact sheet:

• Tobacco is the No. 1 risk factor for preventable death and disease in Canada.

• Nearly seven million Canadians smoke.

• An estimated 45,000 Canadians die every year of tobacco-related diseases.

• Smoking-related diseases are estimated to cost Canada $3 billion per year in direct health-care expenses.

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