N.W.T. health minister says $750 per call to tobacco Quitline is money well spent

A telephone service set up to help people in the Northwest Territories quit smoking cost taxpayers an average of just over $750 per call the last three years. The health minister says that's money well spent.

Telephone service was set up 10 years ago to help smokers give up tobacco

A phone line set up 10 years ago to provide support to people in the Northwest Territories to quit smoking was costing about $750 per incoming call. Earlier this month the Quitline was merged with the NWT Help Line to provide support for those battling other forms of addiction as well as those reaching out for other kinds of help. (iStock)

A telephone service set up to help tobacco smokers in the Northwest Territories kick the habit cost taxpayers an average of just over $750 per call over the last three years.

The Quitline was set up 10 years ago as part of a national initiative to reduce smoking in Canada. The North has the highest smoking rates in the country.

The Northwest Territories government contracts Sykes Assistance Services, based in Ontario, to provide counselling to N.W.T. residents looking for help quitting smoking. The counselling is available at any time in French and English. Callers can arrange to get counselling in any of the Northwest Territories' other official languages.

According to figures provided by the Department of Health, Sykes was paid an average of $33,167 each of the last three years to provide the service. In 2018 there were 40 calls from the N.W.T. to the Quitline. In 2019 residents called in 38 times. And in 2020 that increased to 54 calls.

Helpers at the Quitline also called back people who had dialled in a total of 96 times to provide followup support during those three years.

That averages out to $754 per call to the Quitline. CBC asked Health Minister Julie Green if this is a reasonable rate to pay.

"If we're talking about dollars and cents, the burden on the health system from the one third of adults in the N.W.T. who smoke is in the millions of dollars every year," said Green. "So if we can persuade anyone to quit at $750 a call or even ten times that, it would ultimately save us health care costs."

Green pointed out that another benefit is the better quality of life that people generally enjoy when they do give up smoking. The minister also pointed out that all of the funding for the Quitline comes from the federal government.

The territorial health department says it has not gauged how effective the Quitline is in helping N.W.T. residents quit smoking because the program is federally funded. The department referred CBC to an annual report on Quitline's in operation in the United States.

The report suggested that 33.5 per cent of Americans who called Quitline in 2020 quit smoking. But only about 2.6 per cent of callers were Indigenous.

Minister Green pointed out that, at the start of August, the Quitline was merged with the N.W.T. Help Line to provide counselling for callers suffering other kinds of addictions as well as mental health difficulties.

You can reach the Help Line at any time at 1 800 661-0844.