Brigitte Ouellette is a Respiratory Therapist and Certified Respiratory Educator at the Vitalité Health Network. As a member of the Acadian Peninsula’s Anti-Tobacco Coalition, she and her colleagues are always looking for interesting initiatives that can reach smokers and give them tools to live a healthier tobacco-free lifestyle.

“Since smoking has a negative connotation and that smokers often feel judged by their peers, it’s often difficult to identify and approach smokers in our community in order to help them quit,” says Brigitte.

One of the coalition’s newest program – Learn to Run for Smokers – is an innovative answer to this dilemma. The program was first launched by the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and caught the coalition’s eye.

The idea is simple: physical activity and smoking do not go together. Smokers who are physically active and enjoy training often quit, by their own accord, in order to achieve their fitness goals.

“It’s one of the program’s hidden objectives,” admits Brigitte. “We help smokers learn how to run and train to participate in races, but we do not sell them the program as a way to quit smoking or insist that they quit smoking in order to participate. We know that most will want to quit and will gain tools to do so by simply taking part in this program and physical activity. It will be much more meaningful because it will come from themselves.”

Brigitte has seen many times how physical activity can lead to several other behavior changes. She says that it is very difficult to change more than one harmful behavior at a time, such as unhealthy eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle or smoking. But people who lead sedentary lifestyles and all of a sudden start to become more physically active often see that this also makes it easier for them to eat better and make healthier lifestyle choices. “Someone who is physically active and starts feeling good often wants to make other changes in his/her life,” explains Brigitte.

Intrigued by the results the program was having in Nova Scotia, the coalition contacted the program’s promoters. They received a lot of advice and useful documents allowing them to implement a similar program in the Acadian Peninsula.

“We translated the documents in French. Then, we chose a launch date – April 2014. The program was to be held over 8 weeks and we decided to coordinate the end of the program so it aligned with the Color Run (a non competitive and unique paint race that celebrates healthiness, happiness and individuality), which was taking place on May 31st. This way, not only would our participants learn the right techniques, but they would also be able to put them to good use when taking part in their first race.”

Throughout the duration of the program, participants met one night per week – on Tuesdays. The first half hour was dedicated to learning. This often involved a guest speaker talking to them about topics related to their training, including running and walking techniques, how to choose the proper footwear and maintaining a healthy diet. Then, the group would spend the remaining time training together indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather. Each participant had to commit to a goal of being able to run or walk a 5K. Participants were divided into three groups: people who wanted to walk their 5K, those wanted to do a combination of walking and running their 5K and those who wanted to run the 5K. Each participant was thus able to progress at his/her own pace and smoothly throughout the 8 weeks of training.

“Between meetings, people had to commit to training at home at least twice per week – in order to help them progress,” says Brigitte. “It’s was really fun because people formed friendships and often gathered in pairs or small groups to train at home.”

The program is not only offered to smokers, but also ex-smokers since such training only helps to reinforce healthy smoke-free habits. Participants are also allowed to bring a friend along with them who can support them on their journey.

During its first year, in 2014, 14 participants took part in the Learn to Run adventure. Brigitte says she is pleased with the participants many success stories.

“I remember in particular one lady who had only stopped smoking for five days when she started the program. She was able to do her 5K and she has not smoked since. She is still, to this day, a non smoker!”

“There are also participants for whom the program helped them realize that their smoking habits were detrimental to their quality of life. For example, one of our younger participants came in every week to train with her spouse. She did not smoke a lot, only one or two cigarettes a day, but her husband wanted her to stop. She was able to successfully complete her 5K. She stopped smoking the day of the race and stayed smoke-free for a few months afterwards. She realized that it was very difficult to be a runner when you are also a smoker. She wants to participate in the program again this year, with the specific and clear objective of quitting smoking, once and for all.“

There are indeed several smoking cessation success stories related to physical activity throughout the province. Another well known runner and ex-smoker in the Acadian Peninsula is the school principal at La Ruche in Tracadie-Sheila, Robert Roy-Boudreau. A smoker for more than 30 years, Robert’s newly discovered passion for running finally helped him quit smoking for good. He has been smoke-free for over a year and is currently training for a 100K! Although he was not aware of the Learn to Run for Smokers Program when he started his journey, he admits that he would probably still be smoking if he had not discovered the benefits of running. “My training allowed me to think about something other than cigarettes and gave me something concrete to work towards. Quitting smoking, for me, goes hand in hand with a good diet and physical activity. It is a new, healthier lifestyle that I must continue to explore.”

The Learn to Run For Smokers Program will be held for the second consecutive year in April 2015. The first edition was held in Shippagan and the second edition will be held in Tracadie-Sheila. “We try to reach as many people as we can in the Acadian Peninsula with our initiatives, so we offer this program each year in a different region,” explains Brigitte.

Communities elsewhere in New Brunswick who would like to start a Learn to Run for Smokers Program in their own regions are invited to contact the Acadian Peninsula Anti-Tobacco Coalition for documents and tips. Brigitte will also share her insights and lessons learned about this program during a webinar hosted by the New Brunswick Anti-Tobacco Coalition on May 28th 2015.

“It’s pretty simple to organize,” encourages Brigitte. “You need a large room indoors, such as a gym, where participants can train. You also need a classroom or conference room nearby to accommodate the speakers. It is also good to identify a path or trail outside, such as the New Brunswick Trail or any other place where people will enjoy walking and running. Finally, participants must get their doctors to sign a waiver stating that they are in good enough health to start the program. Then, all you need to do is find some coaches and experts who can guide your participants during the 8 weeks.”

She adds that she had a lot of fun participating in the group’s meetings and that it is very touching and inspiring to see just how much people progress.

Want to learn more about the Learn to Run for Smokers Program? Contact one of the Acadian Peninsula’s Anti-Tobacco Coalition members below. Stay tuned as well for promotional information to come about the New Brunswick Anti-Tobacco Coalition’s webinar on the topic on May 28th 2015.

Brigitte Ouellette –
Marie-Josée Roussel –

Photos: Royalty-free and licensed from

Published in March 2015

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator