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County will help smokers quit

Officials say illnesses related to smoking cost the county $4.3 billion annually

Posted: June 15, 2009 10:41 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Canyon Country resident Manuel Corbin, 35, smokes during his lunch break Monday afternoon. Los Angeles County gave away free nicotine patches through Ralphs Market Monday.

The county is giving away 30,000 nicotine cessation kits to help smokers make the break from tobacco.

Smokers try to quit an average of eight to 10 times before they are successful, said Dr. John Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

"Nicotine cessation kits double the likelihood that a smoker will quit," he said.

The kits, which come as either nicotine patches or as nicotine gum, are partially paid for by Los Angeles Care Health Plan and funds from the county's portion of a tobacco settlement, said Rachel Tyree, project director of L.A. County's Tobacco Cessation Initiative.

The County Board of Supervisors allotted $800,000 from the county's portion of the tobacco settlement. Another $100,000 came from an L.A. Care grant.

The cost for the kits totaled $900,000, Fielding said.

County Public Health and L.A. Care, a publicly funded health-insurance provider, announced the program on Monday. The program provides 30,000 nicotine cessation packs to those trying to quit for free.

The packs, which are available at 47 Ralphs pharmacies throughout Los Angeles County, contain a two-week supply of patches or gum, Fielding said. The person needs to show identification that shows he or she is at least 18 years of age or older, he said.

For those who plan to continue with the nicotine cessation programs or those who miss out on the free packs, Ralphs is discounting its nicotine patches and gum by 30 percent from now until Aug. 15, said Kendra Doyle, a Ralphs spokeswoman. No prescription is required for the packs.

The county will provide free nicotine cessation packs to Medi-Cal recipients beyond the end of the program, provided they have a doctor's prescription, Fielding added.

The free and reduced-price nicotine cessation packs was welcome news for Frank Droege, 21, of Castaic. "It's going to save me money," he said.

Droege has tried to quit smoking and has used the nicotine patch. The $60 price-tag for the patch often discourages him and others from quitting, Droege said.

Money spent on cigarettes is a good reason to quit smoking, Fielding said.

"If you spent $5 on a pack of cigarettes a day, that would be $2,000 each year," he said. "If you quit smoking, that's money you can put in your pocket."

The financial impacts of smoking are felt countywide, Fielding said. Annually, smoking related illnesses cost the county $4.3 billion, including $2.3 billion in direct medical costs, he said.

A steady decline in smokers in Los Angeles County has brought the number of smokers down from 19.3 percent in 1999 to the current level of 14.3 percent, Fielding said. He credits the county's anti-smoking campaigns with the decrease, but insisted more be done.

"We need to move things down toward zero percent (people who smoke)," he said.

That may not be easy, considering how difficult it is to quit smoking, said Manuel Corbin, 35, of Canyon Country.

"I tried to quit once or twice - it's hard," he said.

Corbin isn't convinced that the county's idea to distribute nicotine-patch and -gum kits will work.

"I tried to use the patch but it didn't work. I think it's more mental. I wasn't ready to quit, and if you're not ready, you won't quit," he said.

The county recognizes the limitation of nicotine cessation programs, Fielding said.

In addition to the distribution and discounting of nicotine cessation kits, the county will continue to offer cessation counseling.

For more information on cessation counseling contact the county smoking hotline at 1-800-NO-BUTTS or for Spanish language help contact 1-800-45NO-FUME.


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