The B.C. government announced plans to provide free nicotine gum, patches or smoking-cessation drugs to smokers who want to kick the habit. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

The B.C. government will offer smokers who want to quit a free 12-week supply of either nicotine gum or patches, or a free prescription for smoking-cessation drugs, Premier Christy Clark announced Monday.

"Tobacco is the largest single cause of premature death and disease in our province and while a lot of progress has been made, there is still more we can do. This program will provide smokers with a new level of direct support to quit, to live smoke-free, and to improve their own health as well as the health of their families," Clark said in statement issued on Monday.

The program will start on Sept. 30 and will cost an estimated $15 million to $25 million, according to provincial estimates.

"By reducing the number of people who smoke, not only will we prevent or delay the onset of diseases like heart attacks and cancer, but also avoid the millions of dollars cost on our health-care system," said Health Minister Michael de Jong in the statement.

Each year, more than 6,000 British Columbians die from tobacco use. The cost to the B.C. economy is approximately $2.3 billion annually, including $605 million for direct health-care costs, said the statement.

"This is great news for the 70 per cent of B.C. smokers who are wanting to quit," said B.C. Medical Association president-elect Dr. Nasir Jetha.

"The B.C. Medical Association has been advocating for a decade that one of health care's most cost-effective measures in reducing death, disease and medical costs be a covered expense," said Jetha.

While B.C. has the lowest smoking rate in Canada at 14.9 per cent, there are approximately 550,000 British Columbians who smoke, according to health officials.

Quebec already publicly funds all smoking-cessation drug therapies, while Yukon and Prince Edward Island reimburse at least the cost of anti-tobacco products, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Last December  Saskatchewan also announced plans to cover the cost of two smoking-cessation drug prescription.