Eric Roy’s upcoming 40th birthday is his inspiration to replace smoking with stretching.

“I stopped this morning so yesterday at night I smoked my last cigarette, so now I’m really nervous,” he said.

Roy has signed up for a program designed to help smokers butt out for good. "Run to Quit" encourages smokers to integrate running or walking into their quitting plan.

“I can say I replaced one addiction with another,” said participant Sophie Robitaille.

The Canadian Cancer Society, with funding from the federal government, has partnered with the Running Room chain of stores to bring the program to Quebec for the first time.

Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult – 20 per cent of the Quebec population 12 and over is addicted. Quitting has been proven to reduce the risk of developing at least 18 types of cancer.

Physical activity is proven to help with mood and withdrawal symptoms. A pilot project in 2013 demonstrated smokers were seven times more likely to remain smoke-free six months after joining the program.

“Being part of a group, being able to talk, being able to relieve stress energizes you, it makes you feel better,” said Rosie Robertson, regional manager at the Running Room.

There are different options available: smokers can sign up and pay a fee to get in-store or virtual training help, or the free option allows smokers to quit on their own, provided they sign up for and take part in a 5K run or walk by July 31.

People who join the run and quit program can also get advice and support from a helpline. The service is free and confidential.

Registration is open until April 23. For more information, visit or call 1-866-587-7383.