Quit smoking this year with free assistance
By Matt Reinig | Hernando TodaySPRING HILL - The Hernando County Health Department is offering a free six-week smoking cessation program to help smokers kick the habit in 2013.
Published: December 30, 2012
Published: December 30, 2012
The program, called "Quit Smoking Now," is sponsored by the Gulfcoast North Area Health Education Center and Hernando County Health Department, and includes education on nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers and sprays, as well as education in coping with withdrawal and triggers to remain smoke free.
"The programs that are offered are all State of Florida programs, and they're all free of charge," said Health Education Manager Ann-Gayl Ellis. "And anybody wanting the four-week supply of nicotine, the patches and the gum: it's all free, too. It's another reason to quit."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Each year in the United States, cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke causes 443,000 — or 1 in 5 — deaths. Smoking-caused diseases result in $96 billion in health care costs annually.
In Florida, 17.5 percent of the adult population – over 2,509,000 individuals over the age of 18 — is current cigarette smokers. Across all states, the prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults ranges from 9.3 percent to 26.5 percent, and Florida ranks 18th among the states.
Compared to non-smokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of lung cancer in men by 23 times and 13 times in women, death stemming from chronic obstructive lung diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema by 12 to 13 times and ultimately shortens a person's life by 13 to 14 years. And smokeless tobacco users have an 80 percent higher risk of oral cancer, and 60 percent higher risk of pancreatic and esophageal cancer.
"It's definitely an addictive drug," Ellis said. "It takes multiple quit attempts."
And knowing how addictive nicotine is, the Hernando County tobacco cessation program is being offered in support group fashion. However, there's also phone and online counseling options residents can use who might not have time for the group session.
"Quit Smoking Now is a six-week program, and folks meet on week one and start learning about how nicotine works in the body and brain," Ellis said. "Often times when people smoke they don't know how tobacco works in the body; they don't understand how it affects them, so when they quit they have a better idea of what's going on."
Participants don't quit on the first day, Ellis said, but usually by the third week, and the remaining three weeks is designed to be a support group where quitters can relate what they're going through and avoid relapse.
"'I'm crying, I'm eating everything in the house, I cheated yesterday and I don't know what to do,'" Ellis said about some of the common discussions. "People get depressed and say, 'I'm going to have a cigarette,' or during a fun night at the bar they pick up a drink and pick up a cigarette, so the program helps with a multifaceted addiction and the psychological aspects of it."
Registration for the six-week class, Ellis said, is a very informal process: You don't even need to call ahead, you can just show up.
"And when they get there they'll fill out a piece of paper, and have them fill out a self habit," Ellis said. "The kinds of things that trigger you wanting to smoke: that cup of coffee, or glass of wine in the evening or break at work."
And for those who would rather quit smoking in a non-group setting, residents can call the Florida Quitline to set up a schedule with an over-the-phone counselor. Approximately 613 Hernando County residents have already done so between Dec. 31, 2011, and Nov. 1, 2012, Ellis said.
"In order to get that free nicotine replacement therapy you do have to participate in one of the programs," Ellis said, adding that studies show that to be most successful. "We really do think we have something for everyone."
According to most recent Florida Department of Health figures, 17.9 percent of Hernando County smokes, 34.5 percent used to, and more than half of Hernando County residents 65 or older reported they used to be smokers. The largest decrease in Hernando County smokers was in the adult population, Ellis said.
"Hernando County has had a tremendous decrease in the last five years; we had an adult smoking rate at about 27 percent and we see it now between 18 and 20 percent," Ellis said. "A lot of the smokers that come through our program have started to show signs of emphysema, or battled with chronic bronchitis for years, and you'd be surprised how many asthmatics smoked. So many of them have already had a diagnosis of some kind. Maybe somebody in their 40s is the youngest I've seen that has started to develop some respiratory problems as a result of their tobacco use."
About 20.7 percent of Hernando County smokers are between the ages of 18 and 44, and 24.9 percent are between 45 and 64, and 8.3 percent are 65 or older, with 55.9 percent of those between 45 and 64 trying to quit at least once in 2010.
Most recent figures show 61.1 percent of current smokers in Hernando County tried to quit smoking at least once in 2010. In 2007 it was 57.4 percent, and in 2002 it was 61 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, among youth aged 12–17 years, 9.5 percent smoke in Florida. The range across all states is 6.5 percent to 15.9 percent, and Florida ranks 13th among the states.
"In Hernando County Schools we have the SWAT (Students Working Against Tobacco) program," Ellis said. "Several of our schools have SWAT clubs, and they're pretty strong programs."
Ellis said she remembers years back when funding for the program was cut by the Department of Health, and when the program stopped there was an increase in adolescent tobacco use, which occurs primarily between the ages of 11 and 13.
"They brought it back again, and we're seeing the numbers go back down," Ellis said. "If we can at least eliminate that, or reduce that to when they get older, we can help reduce the chance that they'll become life-long smokers. It's definitely in those middle school years when kids start experimenting."
Shannon Hughes, Tobacco Free Florida bureau chief, said an amendment passed in 2006 created the tobacco prevention and cessation program, which launched in 2007. The program receives 15 percent, or $64,288,000, in tobacco settlement and Centers for Disease Control funding, and is guided by the center's research and practices.
Hughes also said by law a third of the total appropriations has to go to counter-marketing and advertising, specifically youth school programs, community programs and chronic disease prevention.
"We, like many states, have decided not to put all our money into production spots, but those that are focus-group tested by the CDC, so we save a lot and we know they're well done," Hughes said. "What we call this is a hard-hitting campaign that's about showing people the effect that tobacco use has. Research proves that hard-hitting media attempts are effective in successful cessation."
The program takes a large portion of those dollars and allocates them to all but of one of Florida's counties, Hughes said, and holds contracts with community-based organizations or county health departments.
"Each of these counties is required to do a certain amount of work with youth, and Students Working Against Tobacco, and they're required to work in the policy areas as much as possible, and required to put together a local partnership," Hughes said. "The work that the counties do is critical to the overall momentum in the state, so what each county does is critical to our success."