New provincial program taps pharmacists in private sector to help Manitoba smokers quit

The province of Manitoba unveiled a new program Friday in collaboration with pharmacists, aiming to help thousands of people who smoke throw away their cigarettes and vape pens.

The “Quit Smoking with Your Manitoba Pharmacist” program is expected to enrol up to 4,500 smokers who want to stop, Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said at a news conference.

There are about 220,000 smokers in Manitoba, according to the province.

Smokers who are ready to quit will be supported by one of more than 500 Manitoba pharmacists who are trained in smoking cessation tools and supports, Guillemard said.

People over the age of 18 are eligible for the program, and can approach participating pharmacies for an initial assessment, a provincial news release said. 

Participants will be offered followup counselling sessions and up to $100 worth of prescribed medications and nicotine replacement therapies over a one-year period to help them quit.

“Smoking-related illnesses kill about 2,000 Manitobans every single year. This pharmacist-led innovation will deliver nicotine replacement therapy and counselling to thousands of individuals across the province who wish to quit smoking,” Guillemard said.

Most people can’t quit smoking on their first try, she said, and she knows personally how difficult it can be. 

“The goal of Quit Smoking with Your Manitoba Pharmacist is to increase the success rate of people who are ready to quit by making it convenient to access the right supports and resources at their local pharmacies,” said Guillemard.

Private-public partnership

The program is a private-public partnership involving a social impact bond — a funding model that asks private investors to fund social services projects.

Under social impact bonds, if the project meets certain targets, investors get their money back from the province, plus a return. 

In this case, Shoppers Drug Mart is footing the initial bill of $2 million. The province will pay the company $2.12 million if the program’s outcomes are met or exceeded.

Those outcomes include enrolment rates and successful quit rates, said Tim Smith, the pharmacy practice advisor for Pharmacists Manitoba.

Although 4,500 people must be enrolled over three years, 1,500 people must enter the program in the first 18 months and a six per cent quit rate must be met at the six-, 12- and 24-month marks, he added.

Although Shoppers Drug Mart is sponsoring the program, it is available at other pharmacies as well.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said this work is projected to result in health-care savings to the province of more than $1 million per year.

Manitoba has previously announced social impact bonds focused on women’s heart health and providing support for at-risk expectant mothers.