Jeff Pitts can’t remember how many times he’s tried to quit smoking. At 25 years old, the Columbia native says he has been a heavy smoker for a decade.
In the past six months alone, Pitts has made “two or three” failed attempts to kick the habit.
“In order to quit smoking, you have to want it,” Pitts said. “In my case, I want to, but it’s not my primary goal right now.”
His longest cigarette-free stretch over the past 10 years was the two months he spent in U.S. Navy boot camp. He started smoking again immediately after camp ended. Pitts worries about the long-term health consequences of his habit.
“I used to get chronic bronchitis,” he said. “But now I’m eating better and exercising, and that’s gone down drastically.”
A recent survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows that Pitts’ smoking habit is shared by more than 27 percent of Boone County residents — about 37,250 people. That figure is slightly above the statewide average of 26.4 percent.
Missouri has the 10th highest smoking rate in the nation, according to the Center for Disease Control. Kentucky is No. 1 at 32.6 percent.
Of the Boone County smokers surveyed, 69 percent said they are seriously considering quitting within six months.
MISSOURI SMOKING SURVEY RESULTS
|People who currently smoke||27.5%||26.4%|
| Smokers who tried to quit within past 12 months
| Smokers who used patch, gum or other medications
| Smokers who used classes or counseling to quit
| Smokers who are considering quitting within next
| Smokers who agree that nicotine is physically
Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services
Janet Wilson, chief of the DHSS Health Promotion Unit, said the statewide survey of 15,000 people is the largest ever conducted by the department. It also included questions about behavioral risk factors, disease and cancer screening.
The study originally intended to survey twice as many people, with funding coming from Missouri’s portion of the Master Tobacco Settlement. When that money was diverted to other state programs, the department scrambled to salvage the survey, cutting the sample size in half.
“It’s unfortunate that the original funding for tobacco prevention had to be withheld because of the state’s budget crisis,” Wilson said. “It’s our hope that as the economy improves, some of the master settlement funding will be directed towards tobacco prevention and cessation services.”
The American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco report, released Tuesday, gave Missouri three Fs in the areas of tobacco prevention and control spending, smoke-free air and cigarette taxation. The state received a B in keeping kids away from tobacco.
According to the Lung Association’s report, Missouri spent $1.166 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs in 2003. That’s less than 4 percent of the $32.77 million minimum recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The report also criticizes the state for failing to spend any of the money from the Master Tobacco Settlement on tobacco prevention or control.
Deborah Boldt, executive director of the Missouri Partnership on Smoking or Health, said the state made a mistake by not appropriating some of those master settlement funds to smoking cessation programs. Boldt said she believes Missouri is losing millions of dollars annually because of tobacco use.
“We really need to focus on the health of our citizens,” she said. “Part of the reason we’re in dire straights right now is because of the money spent on the treatment of tobacco-related disease and lost productivity.”
Boldt also said smoking is “as addictive as heroin” and many people struggle to quit without the assistance of over-the-counter medications such as the nicotine patch or gum, which are not covered by most insurance policies.
“There are people who would like to stop smoking but can’t afford it,” she said. “Those people would have been helped had the state spent some of the master settlement dollars for the purpose of which they were intended.”
Wilson acknowledges the cost of smoking cessation aids.
“They certainly are not inexpensive,” she said. “But when you look at the long-term savings in terms of not spending money on cigarettes or the potential health care costs, it would be a very wise investment.”
Wilson hopes the DHSS county-level study will encourage smokers to talk to a doctor about the options available to them. Survey data show that more than half of Boone County smokers have tried to quit within the past year. Nearly 70 percent plan to seriously consider quitting within the next six months.
“It’s obvious that people in Columbia and Boone County know it’s physically addictive and want to quit,” Wilson said. “But the last time they tried, very few used any assistance. Some individuals may not be able to quit cold turkey because of strong withdrawal symptoms. They may benefit greatly from cessation aids.”
Heather Cox, 25, has no plans to quit smoking in the near future. The MU graduate describes herself as a “casual smoker,” who only puffs when she’s out at a bar.
“It tastes good with beer,” she said. “But if they banned smoking in bars, I probably wouldn’t smoke.”
Cox said that nearly all her Columbia friends are smokers, while her friends from St. Louis hate the habit.
“It’s more accepted here,” she said.
Cox has been smoking casually for seven years and doesn’t see it as a major health problem.
“I don’t get cravings,” she said. “It’s just when I’m out and about. I’m not worried.”