He had smoked all of his adult life, but at 50, Sean MacIntosh of Apex quit the habit, started up again, and quit again. For his efforts, he received $5,000 and an iPad Air as one of four winners of the 2015 Time to Quit contest. Laura-Jeannie Gibbons, Catherine Aggark, and Marc Auger also won. Their quit buddies received $50 iTunes gift cards.
Nadine Purdy, a member of Nunavut's tobacco reduction team, models the T-shirt available as a prize at community Go Blue NU events. The goal of the shirt is to remind smokers not to smoke within three of doors or windows in public places. - photo courtesy of Audrey Lemieux
"I would recommend that everybody stop," MacIntosh said. "My motivation is my health. Hacking in the morning, shortness of breath, it's just a bad thing all around. Unfortunately, it's a very addictive product. You have to develop the willpower to stay away from it."
After more than 30 years smoking, he is still working to develop that willpower. He quit for three months before the contest, but started again. The contest helped him quit for two months, then he started again at the end of April.
"I am going to take another stab at it," he said, suggesting his impending summer vacation will help. "I figure it will be easier down south, it's a lot hotter and (more humid). Smoking is just not the same down there."
Territorial tobacco reduction specialist Franky Best sympathizes with MacIntosh.
"It's a difficult addiction up here because smoking is so socially acceptable, and everywhere you go, it seems most people are smoking," Best said. "That's the one thing we keep hearing from children and young adults, that everywhere they go adults are smoking. The kids know where to go to find butts because they go where the adults are and pick the butts off the ground. Until we can denormalize tobacco, it's very difficult for people because it's so much a part of society here."
Some might write off MacIntosh's efforts as a failure, but he has a long way to go before beating the addiction, Best said.
"Research shows it takes between 20 and 25 times for a person to actually quit," she said. "It is an addiction and not a habit. It is very difficult, but it of course can be done, and that's the message that we want to get across to people."
To help those who want to quit, the Time to Quit contest offered tools, including free nicotine patches and gum, as well as phone line counselling. More than 1,100 people were involved in the contest as quitters or quit buddies, and 115 signed up for counselling.
Best said these types of contests usually see a drop off in participation, but this year, the contest's second, that didn't happen, and she attributes the stickiness to the supports provided.
"It was easier to use the patch for a while," MacIntosh attested. "After using the patch for a couple of weeks, I got some of that nicotine gum and I chewed about three pieces a day, just when the cravings would hit. The second time I stopped, the time I stopped for the contest, I found it easier than the first time. When I started smoking again, those first few cigarettes were disgusting. I don't know why I didn't just stop again. It was terrible."
Best encouraged him to keep trying.
"It's never too late to attempt to quit," she said. "It's very important for people to keep trying because every step they take takes them closer to that goal of eventually succeeding."
It's also important for non-smokers, who have a hard time avoiding second-hand smoke in Nunavut, where 59 per cent of people over the age of 12 use tobacco products. To get smokers thinking about those people, the Go Blue NU campaign is spreading awareness across the territory.
For those interested in quitting, the contest is over, but resources are still available through the public health offices, the NU Quits website and a phone line.