State ups its anti-smoking campaign

by Bradley Hartsell

For those struggling to quit smoking, the Georgia Department of Health is doing what it can to help aid that struggle.

Thanks to grant money from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health is offering a four-week supply of nicotine replacement therapy to any Georgia tobacco user 18 or older.

“Quitting smoking is one of the most impactful things a person can do for their health,” said District Four Public Health spokesperson Hayla Folden, who has the numbers to back her up.

Nearly two million Georgians use tobacco products in some form or fashion — cigarettes, smokeless, cigars, etc. Recent data shows tobacco use in teenagers is actually increasing in numbers, a troubling trend as Georgians are costing $1.8 billion in direct health care every year and $3.2 billion in lost productivity.

“Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in Georgia,” said Jean O’Connor, director of the Health Promotion & Disease Prevention section in the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Every year in Georgia, more than 10,000 people die from smoke-related illnesses — that’s more than alcohol, cocaine and heroin, AIDS, murders, suicides, auto accidents and fires combined.”

With numbers in teens and young adults using tobacco on the rise, O’Connor says in addition to the Quit Line and treatment medications, the Department of Public Health needs to deter the impact of marketing and visibility in places with high traffic in young people. O’Connor says they’ve found most life-long smokers started before they were 14, as early as 8.

"One approach DPH is focused on to move the needle on the number of kids starting to smoke is helping make sure kids are protected from even seeing adults use tobacco at school,” said O’Connor. “That’s where they spend most of their day, by supporting school districts and colleges that go 100 percent tobacco free. So far, about half of Georgia's school districts have adopted tobacco free policies."

The nicotine replacement therapy medication is free and is available in the form of patches and gum. Those interested in quitting can call Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867) for the free therapies. The Georgia Tobacco Quit Line provides free and confidential, professional tobacco cessation telephone and web-based counseling to all Georgia tobacco users ages 13 and older including pregnant and postpartum women.

“The Quit Line helps people design a plan, based around your lifestyle, and stick to it,” Holden explained. “They’re professional counselors so that it’s not just one phone call and you get a nicotine patch. Maybe you’re trying to smoke once every three hours instead of every hour and a half.”

In the age of the Internet and social media, Holden says the 1-800 number is still regularly in use, according to the data. The data also shows, interestingly, that most people call trying to quit on Mondays.

Since 2001, the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line has helped nearly 95,000 Georgians in their attempts to stop smoking. Georgians who use any form of tobacco are encouraged by the Department of Health to speak with a health care provider or pharmacist for additional support and information about proper and effective treatment options to assist with quitting tobacco.

The Quit Line is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.



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