Smokers in Tokoroa are the first in the country to have access to ongoing face-to-face stop smoking support directly from their local pharmacy.
As of this month, Kunal Laxman from Tokoroa Pharmacy Services Ltd is the first pharmacist to become a qualified quit coach for the Waikato region's free stop smoking programme, Once and For All.
As a quit coach, Kunal can sign smokers up to Once and For All and provide four weeks of face-to-face stop smoking support directly from the pharmacy floor at Unichem Tokoroa pharmacy and Unichem Health Centre pharmacy at Tokoroa Hospital.
"At the pharmacies we see around six or seven smokers come in looking for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) each month. It's great to now be able to offer them regular support via a comprehensive programme rather than one-off help," he said.
Traditionally, pharmacists across New Zealand have offered smokers NRT packs, but haven't been involved in supporting them further on their stop smoking journey.
Once and For All project lead Selena Batt said Midland Community Pharmacy Group CEO Cath Knapton was instrumental in making the connection that pharmacists are extremely well positioned to become quit coaches who offer regular support.
"In discussion with Cath it became clear that many pharmacies are already dispensing NRT packs. It makes perfect sense for staff to undergo training to offer regular support in a more comprehensive way than they ever have before," she said.
In September the Once and For All team began working closely with the pharmacy Group to introduce pharmacists to the programme and offer quit coach training to those who need it. Selena said interest has been rife.
"Kunal was the first pharmacist to complete his training and will begin offering the programme this month. More than half a dozen other pharmacies across the region have also expressed an interest in joining the programme, which is very exciting" Selena said.
Selena said whether smokers sign up to Once and For All via their local pharmacy, or via certain GPs, community health providers, online at www.onceandforall.co.nz or by phoning 0800 6623 4522, the programme remains the same.
"Smokers who join the programme get intensive behavioural support with a dedicated quit coach. Each person sets a target quit date and gets face-to-face support over a four week period.
"During each meeting with the quit coach, smokers blow into a smokelyser machine to confirm they have been smokefree. When they are still smokefree four weeks after the target quit date, they receive a $50 voucher, or up to $300 in vouchers if they are pregnant
"The difference with signing up at a pharmacy is that support takes place on-site rather than at the smoker's home, workplace or in-clinic," she said.
Selena said the main benefit of having pharmacists as quit coaches is the convenience it lends locals, especially in small towns.
"People can simply walk-in and sign up on the spot. Weekend trading hours are especially beneficial for those who work during the week.
"Prior to now, our quit coaches needed to travel from Hamilton to visit programme participants in some small towns. It's always more convenient for locals if there is a nearby quit coach."
Selena said she hopes more pharmacists will see the benefits and more pharmacists will come on board in time. "Midland Community Pharmacy Group CEO Cath Knapton has been incredibly supportive of this initiative and is regularly supporting more pharmacists to sign up."
The Once and For All programme, facilitated by Pinnacle Midlands Health Network, kicked off in October 2016 and is one of 14 providers lending their efforts towards the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 vision.
As a quit coach, pharmacist Kunal Laxman can sign smokers up to Once and For All and provide four weeks of face-to-face stop smoking support directly from the pharmacy floor.