The Ontario government is defunding a program that encourages young adults to stop smoking.
Leave the Pack Behind said it was ceasing operations after being informed by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care it would no longer fund the program. The ministry provided about $1 million annually.
The program was created in 2000 and operates out of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. A health sciences associate professor there who launched the program and leads it still, calls the cut “devastating.”
“Young adults are writing us saying, ‘You saved my life,”‘ said Kelli-an Lawrance. “It’s going to leave a gap.”
Leave the Pack Behind was a free tobacco control program that offered young adults information on quitting smoking, support and resources. It started out with programming at six campuses in Ontario. Its mandate eventually extended to all young adults.
The program helped more than 40,600 people quit smoking in its two decades, Lawrance told CBC Toronto.
“I don’t think [the cut] was very carefully thought out,” said Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco.
In an email, the province said it made the decision not to renew the contract funding to “remove duplication.”
“Our government is taking a comprehensive approach to better coordinate and streamline Ontario’s health care system,” said Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Chazan said the ministry continues to fund other anti-smoking programs and services, including the STOP Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Ottawa Model for Smoking Cessation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Perley argues there’s a need for a specific program targeting young people who have unique stresses, such as trying to find a job.
“It shows a complete ignorance of how the program functions and what it does,” he said.
Leave the Pack Behind will cease operations as of June 2019.
Twenty-eight full and part time staff will lose their jobs.