Quebec to pay for smokers butting out
MONTREAL -- Quebec has been described as the smoking section of Canada, a place where a cafÃ© au lait is savoured with a cigarette and everyone from hockey stars to popular premiers were known to light up.
But the Quebec government is trying to make a dent in the province's nicotine culture, and yesterday it announced that if die-hard smokers want help butting out, the government will pick up the tab.
Beginning Oct. 1, Quebec smokers will be reimbursed for the cost of nicotine patches, nicotine gum and a prescription medicine called Zyban.
The initiative will cost Quebec $5-million, but it is expected to save money by reducing the province's $660-million annual bill for treating tobacco-related disease.
"Smokers are very expensive. This will save money in the long term," said Mario Bujold, executive director of the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health.
"We're very pleased by this news."
The announcement is the latest indication that even in Quebec, home to the country's three tobacco giants, the antismoking movement is finally gaining some ground.
In July, the province began enforcing a tough antismoking law that limits smoking in the workplace and in public buildings.
Restaurants have to set aside 60 per cent of their seating to non-smokers, and while some have cursed the rule for ending Montreal's European-style smoky bistros, restaurateurs have complied.
"We're making up for lost time," Mr. Bujold said. "Culturally, we're more permissive in Quebec; we don't like to forbid things. But perceptions are changing. People see the social and environmental costs of smoking, too."
Smokers in Quebec have been traditionally aided by the province's more laissez-faire attitudes. Even a former provincial justice minister was spotted last year smoking in the Montreal courthouse, just beneath a no-smoking sign.
But smokers also have had some high-profile role models, including one of the province's most admired athletes, hockey great Guy Lafleur, and the late chimney-like premier, RenÃ© LÃ©vesque. Mr. LÃ©vesque is so closely associated with smoking that passersby still place a cigarette in the hand of his bronze statue outside the Quebec National Assembly.