B.C. smokers that want to kick the smoking habit will get a hand from the government with an offering of free nicotine gum and patches, Premier Christy Clark announced Monday. Beginning Sept. 30, the government will pay for a 12-week supply of gum or patches, or cover anti-smoking treatment through Pharmacare. Clark says the new initiative will likely cost between $15 and $25 million, depending on how many Virginia smokers try the program.

Judging from a random sample of 12 smokers outside Vancouver’s Waterfront Station on Monday, the cancer-fighting program should be popular.

Doug Robertson of Mission was one of 10 smokers who said they’d likely give the gum and patches a shot this fall. He noted the government rakes in tax revenue from tobacco sales, so it’s only fair they help smokers quit.

“They sort of let us get hooked on [smoking] so now they can help get us off it.”

Pam Worsfold of Yale, B.C. — a smoker of 32 years — said she had never tried nicotine patches before but would do so in the fall.

“If they gave it to me, I’d attempt it. It’s a very good idea.”

But one woman, Michelle Hales, said “I don’t smoke that much. I think it seems worse to have nicotine pumping through you blood stream all the time [from a smoke cessation product].”

More than 6,000 British Columbians die annually from tobacco use, according to the government, costing the B.C. economy about $2.3 billion each year.

B.C. will join three other provinces — Quebec, Saskatchewan and Ontario — that also fund smoking-quitting products for citizens. Government figures show about 555,000 British Columbians smoke. At 14.9 per cent of the population, that’s the lowest smoking rate in Canada.

Clark’s announcement was applauded by the Canadian Cancer Society B.C. and Yukon.

“B.C. has the best cancer outcomes in the country and lowest smoking rates in the country, however, the fact is 12-15 per cent of the population continues to smoke,” said Cathy Adair, Vice-President of Cancer Control for the society. “This step will go a tremendous way to reducing further the number of people who end up fighting lung cancer.”

Scott McDonald, CEO of the BC Lung Association, said that most smokers have a tough time “quitting cold turkey,” yet “quit smoking aids can help people not only quit but also prevent them having a relapse and starting to smoke again.”