Smoking creates a complicated health burden

“There’s no safe level of it,” says Meg McCallum, formerly Director of Programming and District Services at the Canadian Cancer Society, Nova Scotia Division. Meg says people have to look beyond the smoker and realize tobacco use affects everyone.

She says a cigarette holds about 12 minutes of smoke, but a smoker will only inhale 30 seconds of that. The rest lingers at the end of the cigarette. This second-hand smoke contains 4,000 chemicals that swirl in the atmosphere and contribute to diseases including cancer, asthma, heart disease and emphysema.

The smoking rate in Nova Scotia is 20 per cent, slightly higher than the national average of 18 per cent.

“The biggest challenge is that tobacco use is an addiction,” says Meg. “Because it [smoking] is so prevalent, people discount it as an addiction, and it’s a tough, tough addiction to break.”  Within seven seconds of inhaling, nicotine hits your brain and triggers the pleasure centers.

It is not easy to stop smoking but it is possible. If you are not sure where to begin, talking to your doctor is a good first step.

Stop smoking services in Capital Health

A free stop smoking program is offered by the Capital Health Authority. It is open to anyone in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

The stop smoking program begins with a one-hour information session called Getting Started. It is held at various locations within HRM. After you have attended one of these sessions, and if you decide you want to join a stop smoking group, this is what you can expect from a typical journey through the program:

Step 1.  Attend a 60-minute Getting Started information session. Call (902) 424-2025 for information on the location and time of the next session.
Step 2. Sign up for the four-week Keeping it Going program. These one-hour sessions are designed to help you stop smoking. A facilitator guides the group through a different topic each week. This gives participants an opportunity to connect with each other and to form supports outside of the session.

Step 3. Once you are enrolled in the program, you are eligible to receive up to six weeks of nicotine replacement therapy, more commonly called patches, which may help you to stop smoking.

Step 4. Once you complete Keeping it Going, you will be encouraged to access other sources of support such as the Canadian Cancer Society’s Smokers’ Helpline. Call toll-free at 1-877-513-5333. Visit them online at

Step 5. At three months, six months and one year from the date you started the program a service provider will call you to ask how the stop smoking process is working for you. Your participation is voluntary and you can ask not to be contacted.

Stop smoking myths

It takes several attempts to stop successfully.

Some people stop on their first try, while others may need to try a few times. The more support you have, the greater your chances are you will be tobacco free.

I can’t stop tobacco use without nicotine replacement products such as the patch or gum.

Medications may not be necessary for everyone who wants to stop smoking. Other methods such as support programs and self-help materials can be just as effective.

Nicotine replacement may be helpful if you are motivated to stop smoking; you have tried to stop smoking before and felt the discomfort of withdrawal; you are a moderate to heavy tobacco user.

If I use medications with nicotine, such as a patch or gum, they may be addictive and harmful to my health.

The nicotine in the patch or gum helps reduce tobacco cravings and the withdrawal symptoms that some people experience when they stop smoking. This type of nicotine is completely safe for most people because it doesn’t contain any of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes.The small amount of nicotine you receive also means that you will not become addicted to the patch or gum.

I’ll gain weight if I stop smoking.

Everyone is different - some people may gain while others may not. If you do gain weight, increasing your physical activity and adopting healthy eating habits will enhance your overall health.

Your stop-day countdown

You have decided to stop smoking and have picked the day you will use your last tobacco product. Here are a few tips on getting ready. These are guidelines and you may find you need a bit more or less time to prepare.

5 days before your stop date

Think about why you are stopping.
Tell your friends and family that you are planning to stop.
Stop buying tobacco products.
Get individual, group or telephone support.

4 days before your stop date

Pay attention to when and why you use tobacco.
Think of other things to hold in your hand instead of a cigarette.
Think of habits or routines associated with tobacco use that you could change.

3 days before your stop date

Think about what you will do with money you will save when you stop buying tobacco.
Think about who you will call when you need help.

2 days before your stop date

Think about whether medications such as nicotine replacement products will help you.
Think about your tobacco-use patterns and how to make new, tobacco-free patterns.

1 day before your stop date

Put away lighters and ashtrays.
Throw away all tobacco and matches.
Clean your clothes to get rid of the tobacco smell.

Health benefits of stopping smoking

Anyone who smokes can improve their health by stopping and the benefits are immediate. Eight hours after stopping, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal and the oxygen level in your blood increases to normal. Within two weeks to three months after stopping circulation improves, walking is easier, and your lungs work better making it easier to breathe. Within six to nine months, coughing, sinus congestion, tiredness and shortness of breath improve.

Anyone who smokes can improve their health by stopping.

On December 1, 2006, the Smoke-Free Places Act banned smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places, including outdoor patios. Designated smoking rooms are not permitted.The single exception in the act permits long-term care facilities like nursing homes or a healthcare facility for long-term placement to have a smoking room.

As of April 1, 2008, there is also a ban on smoking in a car when children are present.

For more information about smoking or other addiction-related issues, visit Capital Health's Addiction Prevention and Treatment Services online.