The odds are stacked against smokers. If you're one of the 26.5 percent of Louisianans who smoke, consider the following:

â?¢ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6,400 people in Louisiana die every year from smoking related illnesses.

â?¢ Annually, tobacco use costs our state $1.15 billion in direct medical expenses, and another $1.66 billion is lost in worker productivity.

â?¢ The future doesn't look rosy either; 36.4 percent of Louisiana teens smoke as compared with 22.9 percent nationally.

Last week, the Surgeon General cited a new study noting that there is no acceptable level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed a smoking ban last week that will prohibit all smoking in Louisiana restaurants beginning Jan. 1, 2007.

The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL), a program of the Louisiana Public Health Institute, has set up a 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) hotline for smokers. The hotline offers more than just available resources for smokers; it is staffed by smoking cessation experts.

"These trained professionals are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," says Jason Melancon, a spokesperson for TFL. "Quitline counselors also provide information on Nicotine Replacement Therapy, refer callers to local 'Freedom From Smoking' clinics, and schedule up to five follow-up phone calls as a means of continued support throughout the quitting process."

Smokers who want to quit must have an organized and comprehensive plan because they are facing a formidable opponent. Thomas Lotz, executive director of the American Lung Association (ALA) of Louisiana, notes that nicotine is "one of the most addictive substances on the planet." Peer pressure remains an enticing component for luring new smokers, and tobacco marketing still has a strong presence, Lotz says.

The good news is that smoking cessation programs have dramatically improved.

"They're much better now than they were 10 years ago," Lotz says. "Nicotine replacement therapy products are more available, and the amount of nicotine has been fine-tuned to match what the smoker needs in order to quit."

ALA of Louisiana partners with TFL, Opelousas General Health Center, Southwest Area Health Education Center and The Family Tree to offer "Freedom From Smoking" clinics. The clinics take place at these three area facilities, and are five weeks long with a total of eight sessions. Each clinic participant receives special attention in developing his/her own quitting plan, dealing with recovery symptoms, controlling weight, managing stress through relaxation techniques that work, and being prepared to fight those urges to light up again.

The clinics are reasonably priced and cost only $10 to $75 for the entire eight sessions.

Smokers who quit start collecting health benefits almost immediately. Dr. Kevin Kovitz, director of Interventional Pulmonology at Tulane University Hospital and Clinics, reports that a smoker's risk for heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and vascular disease begin to lessen as soon as they put out their last cigarette. Over time, an ex-smoker's chances of getting one of these diseases approach that of a non-smoker.

According to Lotz, the other half of the equation for successfully quitting is behavior modification. There is now more science to back up the idea that smokers should change their environments and actions when they are trying to quit and to make the changes permanent. Avoid smoking triggers and replace them with a healthier alternative. As Lotz simply puts it, "If you find yourself always smoking at bars and lounges, stop going to bars and lounges. Instead you might spend more time at non-smoking establishments like a gym, shopping mall, or the movies."

Lotz cautions concerned family members, friends, or spouses that the smoker is the one who makes the decision to quit. "You can't do this for your wife or your mother. You have to do this for yourself," Lotz says. Lotz calls this the action stage ' when the smoker has contemplated the smoking habit and decided it's time to do something about it.

Most importantly, it's never too late to quit. "It's always a good time to quit smoking," says Dr. Kovitz.


"Freedom from Smoking" clinics in Acadiana

Opelousas General Health Center, 539 East Prudhomme St.,Opelousas, 594-3989
Southwest Area Health Education Center, 103 Independence Boulevard, 989-0001
The Family Tree, 4540 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, C-100, 295-7021
http://www.louisianalung.org/

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