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New program helps smokers kick the habit
Uninsured adult smokers who want to kick the habit can now turn to the Liberty County Health Department for help.
The Georgia Department of Community Health, which oversees the local health department, launched its nicotine replacement therapy program this week. The program’s purpose is to help reduce tobacco use among Georgia residents who are 18 years old or older.
To participate, individuals must first call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line, a free service that provides counseling, support, and referral services for tobacco users. The NRT program will allow participants to receive a free four-week supply of either nicotine gum or the nicotine patch.
“There are a lot of people who really want to quit smoking but don’t have the resources,” said Cristina Gibson, Coastal Health District Director of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “This free service is a great way for those people to get the support they need to help them quit.”
Program participants will receive their choice of nicotine replacement therapy within a week, said Coastal Health District spokesperson Sally Silbermann.
“Pregnant women who want to take part must have a medical override,” she said. “The nicotine replacement therapy will be provided on a first come, first serve basis and the program will last until supplies are depleted.”
The NRT program is being offered in five of Georgia’s 18 public health districts, including the Coastal Health District. The district was identified as having high tobacco use. The program is part of a statewide initiative to reduce the use of tobacco and the burden it causes from related illness.
More than 10,000 adult Georgians die from smoking-related illnesses each year, according to the 2009 Georgia Tobacco Use Surveillance Report released by the Georgia Department of Community Health.
In addition, about 35 infants die every year in the state because their mothers smoked during pregnancy, according to the report.
The economic costs for smoking are also high in Georgia. It is estimated $1.8 billion is spent on health care and $3.4 billion is lost in productivity.
“In several of our adult programs, including our high blood pressure program and our reproductive health program, we see clients coming through the door that have a desire to stop smoking but they need some assistance,” said Annie Washington, a clinical nurse manager with the Liberty County Health Department. “We don’t see a lot of the smokeless tobacco. Here and there we may run into a case.”
She said the local department is seeing a significant number of teenage girls, many younger than 18, who smoke.
“They seem to think it’s trendy to start smoking,” Washington said. Stress also seems to prompt smoking among teens, the nurse said.
 “They look at (smoking) as a coping mechanism,” she said. “Counseling can help them explore other ways to deal with stress as opposed to smoking cigarettes.”
About 6 percent of middle school students and 19 percent of high school students in Georgia smoke cigarettes, according to the surveillance report. And about 6 percent of middle school smokers and 30 percent of high school smokers buy their cigarettes at gas stations or convenience stores, the report states.
Among the local health department’s clients, three women out of 10 are smokers, Washington said.
“In men, that number seems to be lower,” she said. Washington said this is because fewer male clients use Liberty County Health Department services than women.
“And we see parents of young children who smoke,” she said.
Washington said second-hand smoke can worsen conditions such as asthma in children. Even if parents smoke in another area of the home, or outside on a patio, smoke can still affect children in the home.
“Smoke doesn’t have barriers. It can’t be isolated,” she said.
Washington said there are immediate health benefits to be had by kicking the tobacco habit.
 “The burden on the respiratory system is immediately lifted,” she said.
The Georgia Tobacco Quit Line number is 1-877-270-7867. Spanish-speaking callers may call 1-877-266-3863.
Free local smoking cessation classes also are available. Anyone interested in hosting or attending a smoking cessation class can call 644-5209.

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