Gail Asper urges smokers to quit, saying it took years off her parents' lives

The annual ManitobaQuits: Quit Smoking Contest is sparking up again, just in time for National Non-Smoking Week.

Manitoba Lung Association is challenging smokers to quit, even just for 24 hours

Gail Asper shares how her parents smoking for a lifetime affected the entire Asper family. 2:03

The Manitoba Lung Association is hoping a contest to quit smoking, even for 24 hours, might convince smokers to try butting out for good.

If that isn't convincing enough, Gail Asper said smoking took years off her parents' lives. She shared her family's battles with tobacco at a news conference on Friday to launch the contest,

Asper recalled a time as a child, driving in a smoke-filled car to the family cabin at Falcon Lake. Gail and her brother Leonard took everyone's cigarettes and buried them.

Gail's parents, Israel and Babs Asper, were lifelong smokers.

"There was not a moment in our lives from the time I can remember, like five years old, where smoking and being around my parents wasn't a source of conflict," Asper said.

"We asked my parents, we begged my parents until they were dead of heart issues and so on to please quit smoking."

'No quit attempt is a failure'

The lung association launched its annual ManitobaQuits: Quit Smoking Contest as part of National Non-Smoking Week. Starting Jan. 18, smokers can register online at and pledge not to smoke for 24 hours.

The association hopes people will try the 24-hour period of not smoking and get hooked on the idea of quitting for good.

The late Izzy Asper smoking in his office. Daughter Gail said Izzy had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. (CBC)
"We want people to know that no quit attempt is a failure. Trying for even one day can motivate someone toward a permanent quit," said Tracy Fehr, the association's tobacco reduction co-ordinator.

The stop-smoking campaign has been running for six years and has had 6,000 participants. A survey of people who registered showed 75 per cent of the participants quit smoking for a four-week period and almost 60 per cent were still not smoking six months after they registered for the contest.

Dean Smith smoked for almost 20 years and tried to quit multiple times.

"I feel stupid, actually. I think about how much money I wasted. I probably spent enough money to pay for a small car by now," said Smith.

Smith estimates he was spending almost $100 a paycheque on smokes. He added that there were times when he would try to quit, but he wouldn't tell anyone he was trying to quit because he didn't want others to think he was a failure.

Contest helped, says former smoker

Smith finally knew it was time to quit and signed up for last year's challenge. He said it helped.

"The idea of winning a contest, a public-facing contest helps and it's appealing that there is money involved too," said Smith, who has now been smoke-free for 11 months.

According to a Statistics Canada report from last year, 4.2 million Canadians still smoke. In Manitoba, the report shows 17.4 per cent of Manitobans smoke, which is above the national average of 14.6 per cent. Those survey numbers indicate that 178,000 Manitobans smoke at roughly $16 dollars for a pack of cigarettes.

In previous years, the campaign asked for longer quitting commitments, but the lung association has seen a participation decline in recent years.

The association is hoping the new 12- and 24-hour challenge periods will increase awareness and participation to get more people on board with cutting tobacco out of their lives.


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