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Items found in the Tobacco Cessation Clinic's quit kit. Sarah Pruys/Photo
Items found in the Tobacco Cessation Clinic's quit kit. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

GNWT relaunches program to help people quit tobacco


The territorial government’s tobacco cessation program is ramping up again after a pandemic hiatus, with approximately 150 people signing up over the past few months.

The pilot program is running in the Yellowknife region, which also includes Fort Resolution and Łútsël K’é, and connects patients with integrative supports to help them quit smoking.

Just over 33 percent of NWT residents over the age of 15 smoke, according to the most recent survey completed in 2018, while in neighbouring Alberta, less than 10 percent of the population self-identify as smokers.

Given the many negative health effects of using tobacco – 11 types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, gum disease – the program aims to help people kick the habit by providing them with ongoing support like medication, supportive check-ins, a “quit kit” filled with resources and things to keep busy.

“I’ve already seen lots of people cut back and lots of people quit smoking, so it’s really a rewarding program,” said Sara Hollinshead, a nurse practitioner who is working with the tobacco cessation program.



“It’s exciting … asking people the question, ‘Do you want to quit smoking? Are you ready?’ And people are for the most part, is the vibe I’m getting. They just need help, and so that’s what we’re here to do. We want to help them in any way we can.”

To help people quit, Hollinshead is able to prescribe patients with medication like Bupropion (Zyban) or Varenicline (Champix) or nicotine replacement therapy. She said the medication is typically covered by GNWT healthcare insurance or by people’s third-party insurance, while other supports offered by the program are free.

Dale Matheson, a registered nurse who is a tobacco cessation educator, introduces patients to the program and handles their follow-up care.

When people who want to quit smoking tell their healthcare provider they want to join the program, or if they call the primary care centres in Yellowknife at 867-767-9294 or 867-767-9125, they are put in touch with Matheson.



Matheson conducts motivational interviewing, where patients are supported to come to the conclusion that they want to quit tobacco and that they are ready to take the next step. She also provides patients with quit kits and checks in with them to see how they are doing.

“The follow-up care is significant,” she said. “[I’m] calling people at home and letting them know we care. And when they know that, they’re more apt to say, ‘OK, well, I can do this. I can quit.’ So I’m finding that’s been really effective.”

Watch a promotional video for the Tobacco Cessation Clinic. (You can find the French-language version below.)

Matheson also promoted the quit kit she hands out, explaining that the more types of support people have, the more likely they are to quit smoking.

The kit – available in French and English – contains:

  • a tobacco guide with information about the types of medications people can use to quit smoking, the benefits of quitting tobacco, and how quickly people will see those benefits;
  • a water bottle;
  • a fidget toy;
  • popcorn, gum and tea; and
  • a pass to Yellowknife’s pool or rec centre, so people have a variety options on-hand to help them avoid smoking.

The kit even includes a small piece of soapstone people can carve to keep themselves preoccupied.

Matheson said “part of the beauty” of the program is how individualized it is.

“If someone can’t get to an appointment, we’ll call them or get a taxi chit,” she said.

“Or I might follow-up with someone within days if I think there’s something that needs to be dealt with because, a lot of the time, people are falling through the cracks and won’t know what the next step is, or they can’t get their prescription.”



Part of tailoring the program to the patient, Hollinshead added, includes asking people about other triggers that make them want to smoke – such as alcohol or a first cup of coffee in the morning – and then helping people avoid those things. 

“The approach of motivational interviewing, behavioural assessment, regular follow-up even after quitting, and the medications – combined – is the best approach,” she said.

“That’s just the proven, effective method. Cold turkey doesn’t work,” added Matheson. “You just get higher percentages [of people quitting tobacco] the more you layer on to their treatment.”

The medication therapy piece of the program typically lasts 12 weeks. After that there are options for switching to other medications, as not everyone is able to quit in the first three months. Throughout the patient’s time in the program, the tobacco cessation team continues to follow up with them and help them avoid relapsing.

Patients who speak a language other than English or French can access the program using an interpreter through CanTalk, an interpretation service the territorial government uses. Patients in Fort Resolution and Łútsël K’é can connect with the tobacco cessation staff by phone for appointments.

Watch the French-language promotional video for the Tobacco Cessation Clinic.

This article appears as part of a paid partnership between Cabin Radio and the Government of the Northwest Territories to promote the Tobacco Cessation Clinic in the Northwest Territories. To learn more, visit