Iowa - get a free supply of NRT for just calling the Quitline..

January 3, 2010 - The Iowa Department of Public Health hopes to capitalize on the surprising number of smokers who vow to drop the habit on New Year's Day. Those who commit to their resolution -- and anyone else who calls the department's "Quitline" -- get a free four-week supply of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges (NRT - nicotine replacement therapy) until January 31 as part of the department's outreach to smokers. That's double the amount the department offers the rest of the year.

Iowa has it wrong, first insist the smoker wanting to quit sign up for counseling service and then as a part of this service offer the client nicotine replacement therapy. For example, the American Heart Association believes that nicotine transdermal patches and other nicotine substitution drug products, such as nicotine gum, can help smokers quit when used as part of a comprehensive smoking cessation program. (Nicotine Substitutes / Nicotine Replacement Therapy AHA Recommendation and Advocacy Position) You don't simply pass out these products to every person that calls the quitline and expect them to quit.

"We always get more calls in January, even without the extra patch benefit," said Bonnie Mapes, who leads the state's tobacco use prevention effort. "We know if we provide these services in January, we're more likely to get more people."

It's a tactic the Department of Public Health's Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control used last year from New Year's Day until Feb. 28. Due to a tighter budget this year, the division is only offering it for a month.

Iowa ranks 29th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in its rate of adult smoking, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Iowa's adult smoking rate was 18.8 percent in 2008. That's down from 19.8 percent in 2007. The CDC counts smokers as those who have reported ever smoking at least 100 cigarettes and who currently smoke every day or on some days. In 2008, the lowest was Utah with 9.2 percent, and the highest was in West Virginia, at 26.6 percent.

Quitline Iowa, established in January 2008, received its highest volume of calls in its first month of service -- more than 6,000 in all. Its second-highest total was in January 2009, when more than 3,700 people called.

Callers get free nicotine medication, and are also offered counseling services.

Through the University of Northern Iowa, the Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control tracks the success rate of those who quit after six months and a year. Mapes said that those who try to quit "cold turkey" succeed about 5 percent of the time, while those who use medication and counseling have a 20 percent success rate.

In its pitch to get Iowans off cigarettes, the division is highlighting the financial benefits of dropping the habit. A release from the Department of Public Health estimates that after a month of not buying cigarettes at $5.18 per pack, "most smokers will have saved enough to buy a Blu-ray disc player or 60 gallons of gas."

"People's finances are on the tips of their tongues right now, and their long-term health may not be," said Quitline Iowa coordinator Jeremy Whitaker. "When about 5 percent of your take home pay is spent on cigarettes, it's a big piece and it adds up pretty quickly." Whitaker said it may be fashionable to appeal to people's wallets now, but most people still quit for health reasons.

Smoking in Iowa is costlier and less convenient, thanks to several factors: a federal tax increase of 62 cents a pack this year that led manufacturers to raise their prices; a $1-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax in 2007; and a statewide smoking ban in 2008. In the Spring 2008 The Smokefree Air Act by lawmakers passed legislation that prohibits smoking in almost all public places and enclosed areas within places of employment, as well as some outdoor areas.

The Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control is also working on its outreach. Whitaker said internal estimates show about 52 percent of smokers in Iowa have heard of the Quitline. Ultimately, Whitaker said the goal is to get people aware, but not necessarily to get more callers. "Our audience is shrinking, so that's a good thing," Whitaker said. "As adult smoking decreases, we're going to have fewer calls and that's OK."

Reference: Iowa doubles its offer to help smokers quit by NIGEL DUARA, Associated Press Writer, 12/31/2009.

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