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Colorado’s state programs help smoke out addicts

Alysia Patterson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” When it comes to lighting up, Coloradans are cooling it.

The share of Coloradans who smoke dropped to about 19 percent in 2007, compared with 23 percent in 1998, state and federal health officials said Friday.

Colorado is one of 44 states where smoking has declined in the past decade, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jason Vahling, director of the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, attributed the decline to smoking bans, the Colorado QuitLine ” which counsels smokers and provides free nicotine patches ” and media campaigns that encourage users to quit and discourage kids from picking up the habit.

The number of calls to the QuitLine significantly increased in 2006 when Vahling’s program partnered with the Denver Broncos to promote it, he said.

Colorado ranks in the top 15 states for lowest smoking rates. About 19 percent of men and 17 percent of women 18 and over in Colorado smoke.

Linda Grantham, a 59-year-old retired nurse from the Denver suburb of Wheatridge, decided to quit last May because of high blood pressure after more than 35 years smoking.

“I had seen the public service announcement on television for the QuitLine. … So I called them up and started using the patches,” she said.

When her supply of free patches from the QuitLine ran out, Grantham went cold turkey.

“Good patches are very expensive and the generic patches never work very well,” she said.

Grantham said the QuitLine counselors were “cheerleaders.”

“It occurred to me when I was getting close to the end that I would really hate after all their encouragement to tell them that I had relapsed.”

The rising cost of cigarettes accounts for some of the decline.

“As tobacco prices go up, that’s a motivator for people. Especially during these tough economic times,” Vahling said. Colorado raised its cigarette tax in 2005 but the federal tax on cigarettes is set to increase on April 1 to 62 cents per pack.

“That has started to discourage me,” said 23-year-old Joshua Tafoya, a Boulder college student who’s been smoking since he was 16. “My brand went up to $5.50 a pack,” he said.

Tafoya said he plans to quit soon because he’s started to notice adverse health effects. “(Age) 24 is the deadline I set for myself. I’m trying,” he said.

The statewide smoking ban in public buildings helped persuade Grantham to quit.

“I felt like, this is really pathetic: Here I am freezing my buns off (smoking outside in winter)…. This is craziness!” she said.

Tafoya said the bans discourage smokers but can demonize them, too. “It attempts to alienate smokers ” makes you a social pariah,” he said.

Smoking still kills an estimated 4,400 Coloradans each year, costing Colorado about $1.3 billion a year in medical expenses, said Vahling.

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Colorado,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.


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