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POSTED: August 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    At the end of June, the Coastal Health District began a pilot Nicotine Therapy Replacement (NRT) program to help local residents quit smoking. The program, which is part of the governor's Live Healthy Georgia campaign, is completely free, and provides participants with over-the-phone counseling and nicotine replacement patches, gums, or lozenges.
    According to Cristina Gibson, Director of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, the Coastal Health District was chosen to pilot the program because of the area's large population of smokers. "We're one of five health districts in Georgia to be able to pilot the program because these five districts have the highest rate of smoking in Georgia. The South and the Southeast are basically a cancer belt," she said.
    Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature death in Georgia; one out of every six deaths is caused by smoking or chewing tobacco. "Twenty percent of Georgians are smokers. Our goal is to reduce it to 12 percent," Gibson said. And the NRT program is one way to get it done.
    "It's so hard for people to think about quitting," Gibson said, "and we're really excited about being able to offer this program. Especially since it's free."
    In order to partake in the program, Gibson said, "You have to get to the point where you want to quit. Then you call the quit line. You'll be screened for different criteria, like if you live in Georgia and what county you live in, if you're over 18, if you've ever had trouble with the patch or anything like that."
    Then, participants are offered up to 5 over-the-phone counseling sessions and 8 weeks worth of nicotine replacements. And, to make the service even more convenient for its users, the replacements are shipped directly to the participants.
    "All the research indicates that over-the-phone counseling plus nicotine replacement therapy really is the best way to get people to quit smoking," Gibson said.
    The NRT program and the quit line are run by Free and Clear, a national company that works in conjunction with the Georgia Division of Public Health. For more information on the program, visit www.livehealthygeorgia.org/quitline. To reach the quit line directly, call 1-877-270-STOP for English and 1-877-266-3863 for Spanish.
 

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