High tobacco prices not deterring smoking among the poor

On Nov. 19, many people will throw away their cigarettes in honor of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. Jason Halford, 29, of Joliet probably will not be one of them.

In the nine years since he started smoking, Halford has quit twice, but he blames job and money-related stresses for lighting back up. Even the rising cost of cigarettes isn’t enough to discourage him.

“I buy cheap brands and look for dollar-off specials,” Halford said.

While some people might think the high cost of keeping the habit would discourage its use, recent research suggests the opposite may be true.

Dr. Bruce Christiansen of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (CTRI) discovered that half the adults in Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods smoke, despite paying $9 for a pack ofcheap cigarettes on a household income below $15,000.
Quit kit
“There’s an ugly truth about the good news of dropping smoking rates,” Christiansen said. “While smoking rates have dropped overall, we’ve left some populations behind.”

In response to his findings, Christiansen and his group are creating a tool kit for community organizations. Smokers who come to food pantries or shelters can receive a 13-minute intervention message about the best methods for quitting, including medication options and referral to the Wisconsin Tobacco Quitline. This provides free coaching and starter medication.

The Will County Health Department offers a more intense solution. For $20, people 18 and older can attend the American Lung Association’s seven-week Freedom From Smoking program. For the program’s duration, free nicotine patches or lozenges will be distributed up to six weeks to those interested in using them, although their use is not required.

“Those are only two options that are available,” said Michelle Marek, community health director. “Some people like throwing the patches on and not worrying about it, and others prefer to quit cold turkey. What works for one person doesn’t work for another.”
Support of peers
Although each hour-and-a-half session will address topics — quitting techniques, stress management, weight control, healthy diet and controlling smoking urges — possibly the program’s main benefit is its sense of “I’ve officially quit” and “We’re all in this together.”

“No one quits by himself,” Marek said. “A lot of these people have been smoking for a long time and get into their own routines. But the other people in the class are going through the same struggle and they get helpful tips from one another.”

Classes meet only once each week, except week four — “quit week” — when everyone stops smoking on the same day and meets 48 hours later for a follow-up session. Despite the low-cost fee to cover materials, Marek said the program attracts people with a wide range of ages and income.

Even as participants “kick the habit,” they are also learning strategies to replace smoking with a healthy lifestyle and possibly add years to their lives.

According to the health department’s Smoke-Free Joliet Coalition (www.smokefreejoliet.org), a 50-year study of more than 34,000 male doctors found that quitting by age 40 can add about nine years to a man’s life. Quit by age 50 and gain six.

For those who cannot attend the program, Marek suggests they call the free Illinois Tobacco Quitline at 866-QUIT-YES.

“They don’t have any replacement products, but they do help people over the phone,” Marek said.

The coalition’s medical experts suggest these additional methods to ease the transition to being smoke-free:

  • Set a quit date then ask family and friends for support.
  • Use nicotine-replacement therapy or prescription medicine to ease the withdrawal process, which peaks at one to three weeks after quitting.
  • Avoid people and places that induce cigarette cravings.
  • Ask your doctor for advice to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

source: The Herald-News

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