County program has helpline, iPhone app
by Michelle Ye Hee Lee– Jan. 2, 2012 10:35 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
Maricopa County has kicked off its annual push for a smoking-cessation program for residents and employees who have resolved to quit smoking in the new year.
Arizona’s smoking-cessation program is funded through the state Department of Health Services and promoted by the counties. The state’s advertising campaign for its free “quitline” — a telephone service with coaches to help those quitting smoking — launched last week for Arizona residents.
The county’s six-week program with a cessation specialist begins today at the county’s administration building in downtown Phoenix.
The ADHS recently launched a free iPhone application for residents who want to track their personal progress and create a support network on their own. The application also allows residents to call a “quit coach” when they need one.
With the renewed push to offer smoking-cessation services, Arizona Smokers’ Helpline Director Stephen Michael said the start of the new year is a fitting time for residents to quit smoking. There are plenty of smokers making the same resolution, so they can keep each other accountable, he said.
“This time of year, it’s OK to quit smoking, and it’s OK to be public about it,” Michael said. “The two Number 1 resolutions is to lose weight and quit smoking.”
Through the state and county programs, residents enrolled in the state’s Medicaid program also can receive 12 weeks of free medication, including nicotine gum, patches and lozenges.
The helpline is a telephone and Web-based service. Quit coaches help callers set up a plan for quitting, then call them once a week.
They suggest activities people can substitute for smoking, and point them to resources they can use on their own so that the helpline is not the only assistance they have to quit smoking.
Quit coaches encourage callers to stay with the program for at least 90 days.
They follow up with the callers at the seven-month and one-year marks to see how they are doing.
Lee Connelly, supervisor of the smoking-cessation program at the county Department of Public Health, encouraged those quitting smoking to check with their insurance companies or workplace human-resource coordinators for special insurance offers or options for non-smokers.
The county created financial incentives in its benefit plans for employees and dependents who are non-smokers. A health-plan requirement to take cheek swabs from employees to verify if they smoked caused an outcry last year among some who said the process was an invasion of privacy and would allow the county to collect sensitive health information.
The county today is starting a new round of classes for employees who want to quit smoking. Employees can attend the class once a week during their lunch hour to learn about nicotine-replacement therapy and tips on managing withdrawal, weight gain and stress.
Connelly said about a dozen participants show up at the classes. There is room for more.
County employees who participate are each covered $500 a year for prescription smoking-cessation medicines.
Justin Lauridsen, judicial clerk at the Pretrial Services Division of the county’s Adult Probation Department, quit smoking through the county’s program about a month ago after smoking at least a pack a day for seven years. He took two weeks’ worth of smoking-cessation medicine, which the county paid for.
Lauridsen, 25, said it was jarring to learn of smokers his age having serious health problems that later developed into near-fatal conditions.
He said it was helpful having a co-worker with whom to attend smoking-cessation classes.
“It was so much information I didn’t know about smoking,” Lauridsen said.