USF program gets Floridians to kick the smoking habit

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World No Tobacco Day is May 31

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. This year, the World Health Organization is focusing on tobacco and heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three deaths from cardiovascular disease is smoking-related. Even those who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day may show early signs of heart disease.

Smoking can raise triglycerides, making blood sticky and more likely to clot, and causes thickening, narrowing and inflammation of blood vessels. Over time, this puts added stress on the heart muscle as it works extra hard to pump oxygen rich blood through the body. Smoking, as result, increases the risk for heart attack and cardiac arrest.

Maureen Guthke, assistant director of the Tobacco Free Florida AHEC Cessation Program at the University of South Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC), says that if a person smokes, the best thing they can do to protect their health and loved ones is to quit.

“When you quit smoking, your health starts to improve shortly after your last cigarette, and continues to get better over time,” Guthke said. “You can add up to 10 years to your life if you quit smoking. Two weeks to three months after quitting smoking, your circulation can improve and within a year, heart attack risk drops dramatically. Within five years, most smokers cut their risk of stroke to nearly that of a non-smoker.”

“There are many reasons to quit, and creating a quit plan increases the chances of becoming tobacco free,” she said. “The average smoker attempts to quit between eight and eleven times before he or she is successful. When planning to set a quit date, many smokers choose a date within two weeks, which will provide sufficient time to prepare.”

Guthke, a USF College of Public Health alumna, reports that since 2007, Florida’s statewide comprehensive tobacco education and use prevention program, Tobacco Free Florida, has helped over 188,000 Floridians successfully break the addiction.

“Tobacco users who use the Tobacco Free Florida program free tools and services are five to eleven times more likely to quit than those who try on their own,” she said.

The Tobacco Free Florida program follows the CDC’s Best Practices for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs, which have been proven effective in reducing tobacco use and health care costs.

According to the CDC, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data in 2016, the adult smoking rate was 15.8 percent, down from 21 percent reported in 2006. The program saved the state $3.2 billion in health care costs in 2015.

In addition to offering Floridians free support and quit aides like the nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges, the Tobacco Free Florida program has served as a referral resource for health care service providers across the state working to reduce tobacco dependence in their patient population.

According to Guthke, in 2015 approximately two thirds of cigarette smokers were interested in quitting, and slightly more than half reported receiving advice to quit from a health professional and making a past-year quit attempt. A meta-analysis included in the October 2017 issue of JAMA, “Smoking Cessation Pharmacotherapy Among Smokers Hospitalized for Coronary Heart Disease,” concluded that while cardiac events provide a teachable moment with patients being highly motivated to quit smoking, hospitals are not capitalizing on the opportunity to improve health outcomes by initiating pharmacotherapy while hospitalized.

Guthke says it is critical for health care providers to consistently identify smokers, advise them to quit, and offer evidence-based cessation treatment. It’s also important for insurers to cover and promote the use of these treatments and remove barriers to accessing them.

“Statewide, AHECs continue to build partnerships with a myriad of organizations, such as federally qualified health centers, hospitals, health departments, assisted living facilities, academic institutions and many other entities to strengthen the capacity of Florida’s health care system to deliver effective tobacco cessation services and reduce the rate of heart disease in the state,” she said.

To learn more about the Tobacco Free Florida AHEC Cessation Program at USF, visit their website.

 Story by COPH Staff Writer