By: Michael Timmermans

Algonquin reaches out to encourage students to quit smoking. Is it time to break the habit?

Algonquin students have the chance to keep their new year’s resolution to quit smoking and win $1,000 with the Leave the Pack Behind contest.

Promoted by Algonquin Health Services, Leave the Pack Behind is tailored specifically to young adults and is designed to support those who wish to quit smoking, offering them advice, support and motivation. To motivate them further, participants have the chance to win a grand prize of $1,000.

Leave the Pack Behind participants are given a quit kit containing information on smoking cessation, are entered for a chance to win the $1,000 prize and are asked to provide the name of a buddy; a friend or family member that can offer support and accountability. Emails tailored to the individual participant are sent throughout the contest, offering positive encouragement and tips. Participants are ask to commit to one of three options: quit smoking, cut back their smoking by 50% or not to smoke when they drink. Non-smokers may enter as well by making a commitment to remain smoke-free.

“Students are becoming more and more aware,” of the quit smoking services offered by Health Services, said Carol Hopky, a nurse with Health Services. “The [Leave the Pack Behind] contest is helping raise awareness.”

Hopky and her colleague Judy Doxtater advise that using nicotine patches and gum simultaneously increases a smoker’s chance to quit, but on a student budget, these therapies can be expensive. They note that students can access free nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches and gum, medical consultation and motivation through Health Services. Through the clinic, students also have access to a doctor for prescription therapies.

While they acknowledge that there is an increase in demand for smoke cessation services just before the holiday break and early in the new year, Hopky and Doxtater offer their assurances that they have the resources to assist students throughout the year.

Lindsay Taylor, assistant manager of communications for Leave the Pack Behind, said the contest was founded at Brock University in St. Catherines in 2000. 6 Ontario campuses participated the first year. Funded by the Government of Ontario’s Smoke-free Ontario initiative, the contest has steadily increased over the last 12 years, growing to include 8000 participants on 44 post-secondary campuses across Ontario last year.

“Last year we doubled,” said Taylor. For 2013, she hopes for even more entries.

The program is designed specifically for young adults. “The process of quitting is very different for young adults than for high school students,” said Taylor. She said blanket solutions are not always the best options for everyone.

“Students try to quit smoking for various reasons,” said Erika Doyle, health promotions educator with Health Services. “They know it is bad for their health, it is too expensive and they have the opportunity because of the free NRT [Nicotine Replacement Therapy] provided by the school. NRT is very expensive and most students would not be able to afford it for very long on their own.”

“Leave the Pack Behind runs their contest in January because of the sense of there being a new year and new beginnings,” said Doyle. “I think that a lot of people have quitting smoking as one of their resolutions.”