|\||The current hike in tobacco prices may be pinching consumers, but health professionals see an opportunity to turn away from tobacco and its negative side effects.|
"It's always a good time to quit," said Kathleen Kennedy, administrator of the Barry County Health Department.
Kennedy saw those least able to pay the higher prices, namely young people, as the most likely to cut back or stay away from tobacco products. "For the most part, if people don't start smoking by age 18, they won't start." Reducing the initiation to smoking in the long run reduces the number of adult smokers.
On a basic pocket change level, King said, people benefit from not smoking. "You have more money for other things in these hard economic times. People can use that money for their family and children, like groceries and gas."
Missouri has had one of the lowest tax rates in the nation per pack, King said. A statewide ballot initiative to raise the tax a few years ago failed. King credited the defeat to general anti-taxation sentiment rather than affection for tobacco products.
The Barry County Health Department participates in the Barry County Chronic Disease Coalition, working to reduce environmental tobacco smoke. The organizations have been encouraging schools through the Smokebusters tobacco prevention program to go beyond having smoke free buildings by establishing smoke-free campuses.
"Part of the marketing strategy of tobacco companies have been targeting children, even though they are not supposed to," King said. "We must be diligent about informing youths and parents on marketing strategies. We must be telling the public that alternative tobacco products, such as chewing and flavored cigarettes, are not safe."
For those who want to quit, Cox Monett Hospital has the Tobacco-free Individualized Plans (TIPS) to help people through the struggle to quit. Lauren Holland, a community wellness educator who got her training on the TIPS program at the Mayo Clinic, said that even with help, on average it takes four to six times for a tobacco user to quit for good.
"The hardest thing is getting over the cravings, the desire to do it," Holland said.
Quitting is more than just an issue of will power, Holland stressed. Nicotine bonds to specific sites in the brain. People who have used tobacco products have "awakened" these sites. "Those who don't smoke or chew have brains that are chemically different," she said.
"Whenever a person tried to go cold turkey, the sites in the brain are not getting the nicotine they are used to having, and they react. It's more than use a psychological will-power thing. It's actually overcoming an addition," Holland explained.
In the TIPS program, which costs $80, Holland sits down with each participant, gets a background of tobacco use and helps develop an individual plan on how to quit. "We try to give them as much information as possible about what they will go through," she said.
The program is largely self-driven. Holland checks on progress at six months and a year. By the latest numbers, TIPS has a success rate of around 33 percent over a year's time.
"With most smoking cessation programs, 33 to 45 percent success is good. Mayo has a seven-day intense program that costs $5,000 and only has a success rate of 48 percent," Holland said.
"If a person can cut back in any way, it's good. With some people I see, we do a specific plan. If a person can cut back a few months before a quit dates, I'm all for that. There's no 100 percent success for any therapy method," she added.
TIPS is not covered by insurance. Holland said payments can be worked out with the hospital.
For those seeking help on the way toward quitting, the Missouri Department of Health has established the Missouri Quit Line at 1-800-QUITNOW. Counselors are available at no charge until 11 p.m. daily to provide advice and support.