Free patches help those trying to quit smoking

January 03, 2005|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Since the mid-1990s, the Washington County Health Department has distributed more than 3,000 free nicotine patches to about 800 people in the battle against smoking.

The result, according to a recent study by the department and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is an increase in the number of people who have kicked the habit during the first six months after quitting.

Tobacco usage has dropped among Washington County youths and adults, according to Kimberly A. Rasch, program manager for the county's Cigarette Restitution Fund Program.


In 2002, tobacco usage among Washington County youths was 22.4 percent, down from 28 percent in 2000. Tobacco usage among Washington County adults was 24.5 percent in 2002, compared with 26.4 percent in the year 2000, according to the department's most recent data.

"Washington County residents are able to receive free nicotine patches when they attend smoking cessation classes," Rasch said.

Classes are offered twice a week for four weeks and are open to the public. Participants discuss nicotine withdrawal, coping strategies and how the nicotine drug affects the body and the brain, Rasch said.

Nicotine alters the brain's receptors in such a way that when a smoker is no longer smoking, the brain still craves the nicotine, she added.

"The patch provides the body with a steady dose of nicotine without getting the chemicals present in a cigarette and allows a smoker to slowly cut back on their nicotine usage."

Worn on the upper arm just below the shoulder, nicotine patches are replaced every 24 hours and come in varying strengths.

"A pack-a-day smoker would start off on a patch containing 21 milligrams of nicotine," Rasch said.

Free patches are given to Washington County residents. The distribution of free nicotine patches has increased the number of people attempting to quit, Rasch said, but the long-term quit rate is lower compared to the rate before patches were available.

More than 1,000 people have attended the county's smoking cessation programs, and patch recipients are followed for three years with follow-up phone calls every six months from cessation group facilitators, Rasch said.

On average, it takes seven to 10 attempts before a smoker manages to successfully stop smoking. Those who relapse often are embarrassed or afraid to return to class and admit they've relapsed, Rasch said.

In Maryland, lung cancer caused by smoking accounts for 29 percent of all cancer deaths. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women in the state, Rasch said.

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