By Dana Boone
African-American smokers -- who tend to “suffer more” than other ethnic groups from the harmful effects of smoking -- could benefit from a new state program that provides free nicotine patches and gum.
The Iowa Department of Public Health began offering the nicotine patches and gum through the state's "Quitline" at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669. The free, confidential program is for Iowa smokers 18 and older who want to end their dependence on cigarettes and other tobacco products. The nicotine patches and gum help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal, health officials said.
"We know that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by smoking," said Bonnie Mapes, director of the department's Division of Tobacco Use and Prevention and Control. "As adults, African-Americans have a higher smoking rate, and they tend to suffer more from smoking effects."
Thousands of Iowans this month have flooded the state's smoking cessation hot line with calls since it began offering free nicotine patches and gum, state health officials said. The hot line has received 2,560 calls since Jan. 1.
To receive a two-week supply of the nicotine patches and gum, participants must agree to take a brief health assessment and accept two follow-up calls from trained phone coaches. Participants also can sign up for ongoing support through eight additional calls from phone coaches.
Mapes stressed the importance of the ongoing phone coaching and support.
"The reason we want them to do that is that telephone coaching doubles a person's chances of quitting," she said.
Smoking can cause many diseases, including heart and lung disease and cancer, and is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, Mapes said. The biggest killer of smokers is heart disease, she added, since smoking increases blood pressure and burdens the heart.
"As soon as you stop smoking," she said, "the burden goes away."
Two diseases that pose a greater risk for blacks -- diabetes and high blood pressure -- are worsened by smoking, Mapes said. According to Families USA, a health advocacy group, blacks are twice as likely as whites to have diabetes.
Many longtime smokers believe they won’t reap health benefits if they quit, Mapes said.
"That isn't true at all," she said. "Don't think that just because you've smoked for 30 years that it's too late. There are immediate and long-term benefits to quitting no matter how long you've smoked."
People who quit also realize a financial benefit, she said. The average smoker goes through a pack of cigarettes a day at a cost of nearly $5 a pack, she said.
"It's a huge monetary impact not just for the smoker, but for their family," she said. "That's the price of a gallon of milk. It's an impact on the nutrition of the family."
The state's most recent adult tobacco survey, conducted in 2006, found that smoking is on the decline among Iowans who participated in random computer-assisted telephone interviews:
* 18 percent of Iowans smoked cigarettes in 2006, down from 23 percent in 2002.
* 34 percent of Iowans aged 18 to 24 smoked cigarettes.
* 72 percent of smokers surveyed in 2006 wanted to quit smoking.
Data from the health department also show that in 2006 slightly more men smoked than women, 23 percent and 19 percent, respectively; and 21 percent of whites smoked, compared with 28 percent of other ethnic groups, which were not disaggregated in the report.
"It's a drug addition," Mapes said. "It's not some habit. It isn't a matter of choice. Ask any smoker and they'll tell you that. The vast majority of them recognize that. . . . It’s not that they don’t want to quit."
Iowa smokers who qualify for the Medicaid program are eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of free nicotine patches and gum, but must first get a referral from their health care provider before calling the hot line to sign up, Mapes said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that of the 2,560 callers during the program's first week, 2,151 requested the nicotine patches and gum, and 1,323 agreed to the telephone coaching.
"We're encouraging people to sign up for both," she said.
The program likely will run through 2011 as long as money is available, McCormick said. Smokers can take advantage of the program once a year, he said.
Iowa's "QUIT-NOW' smoking cessation hot line:
Dial 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669 to sign up for the state's free, confidential program, which offers nicotine patches and gum. The kits are shipped to participants within 24 hours.
The telephone line is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. English-and Spanish-speaking counselors are available.
Beginning Monday, the hot line's hours will extend from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday