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FOR RELEASE: December 28, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Health Commissioner Calls for New Year’s Resolution to Help Smokers Quit

The story is the same every year in Oklahoma, when smokers make their New Year’s resolutions to stop smoking, cost-effective treatment to help more of them quit successfully is lacking in Oklahoma, according to health department officials. Without cessation treatment, very few will manage to avoid starting another New Year by buying another pack of cigarettes. About 550,000 Oklahoma adults and 85,000 Oklahoma children are current smokers.

“We know that most smokers became addicted as teenagers and have been trying to quit ever since. In Oklahoma, three out of four adult smokers and one-half of youth smokers want to completely stop smoking,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. Quitting tobacco use rarely occurs overnight or with just one attempt to quit because nicotine is such a highly addictive drug. “Unfortunately, most people who have tried to quit smoking know just how hard it can be. The good news is that there are proven, cost-effective ways that Oklahoma could help to significantly increase smokers’ success rates statewide,” Beitsch added.

In recent years, science has made advancements in treatments and behavioral counseling that provide new tools to help smokers increase their success rate in quitting. Every smoker’s situation and needs are different. The primary component of a cost-effective cessation program is a 24 hour, toll-free telephone “quitline” that smokers can access anytime for personalized counseling by trained cessation specialists. Combined with personal counseling by health care providers, each smoker can better determine his or her best options for success in quitting.

Treatment of nicotine dependence is considered the “gold standard” of cost-effective interventions. Based on the cost of years of life saved, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ranks smoking cessation treatment higher in cost-effectiveness than virtually all other preventive health programs, including mammography, colon cancer screening, pap tests, and pharmacological treatment of mild to moderate hypertension.

“Cessation products and services need to be made available through Oklahoma insurers, health care settings, workplaces, and schools to help prevent the devastating diseases caused by tobacco,” Beitsch said. Studies of specific pharmacological aids have shown that using the nicotine replacement patch leads to a typical success rate of 18 to 22 percent at 12 months. The prescription aid Bupropion, also known as Zyban, has a success rate of about 23 percent at 12 months. Such cost-effective products need to be provided to the uninsured through county health departments.

Tobacco addiction is Oklahoma’s leading cause of premature death, killing about 6,000 Oklahomans each year. Health officials say that by implementing a comprehensive, statewide tobacco use prevention and cessation program, Oklahomans will see immediate benefits by saving lives, improving public health, and dramatically reducing preventable medical costs. Direct health care costs and lost productivity related to tobacco addiction averages about $300 per person per year in the State of Oklahoma, totally over $1 billion annually.

Due to a lack of funding, Tulsa County is currently the only county in Oklahoma where a comprehensive tobacco use prevention and cessation program has been fully implemented. Because interest revenue from the Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund is expected to be insufficient to support a statewide program until at least 2011, the state health department has requested funds from the State Legislature to immediately implement such programs statewide.

On October 1, a coalition of state agencies and public health organizations called for several tobacco policy measures including a $1 per pack increase in the state excise tax on cigarettes with the new revenue used to implement a statewide, comprehensive tobacco use prevention and cessation program and to offset tobacco-related health care costs.

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