Helping local smokers snuff their habit

Health Department offers nicotine patches and counseling as part of a free service
Monday, June 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:55 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Don’t let people smoke in your home. Get rid of the ashtray in your car. Have the support of your family and friends.

These are some tips that Cindy Brengarth tells her patients who have decided that it is time to quit smoking or to at least start thinking about it.

Brengarth is a nurse for the Columbia- Boone County Health Department, and as of May 1, she is also a counselor for its new smoking cessation service.

“It’s not an easy habit to quit, but neither is giving up chocolate or increasing your activity,” Brengarth said. “All of those are lifestyle changes, and it takes work, and it’s not an easy task.”

The service includes four free consultation sessions and one follow-up call. The first session, which lasts 30 to 45 minutes, assesses the smoker’s history, his or her readiness to quit and a possible “stop date.” The counselors are Health Department nurses who have been specially trained in smoking cessation services.

“Now that we have a community that is a nonsmoking community, it is a great opportunity to help individuals become a nonsmoker,” Brengarth said.

Counselors can offer help with problems related to quitting, provide tips on avoiding “triggers” and suggest ways to deal with cigarette cravings. For example, if a person likes to have a cigarette with a cup of coffee in the morning, the coffee would be the “trigger” and a counselor would help find ways to avoid it. Brengarth suggests taking a walk or changing your morning routine.

After each session, a free two-week supply of nicotine patches is provided. A client who smokes 10 or more cigarettes a day is started on a patch that contains 21 milligrams of nicotine for four weeks. Then, the dosage is reduced to 14 milligrams for the next two weeks and, finally, 7 milligrams for the final two weeks.

“This gives their body and their brain the ability to wean themselves off the real nicotine, because it’s truly a severe addiction,” Brengarth said.

The service is open to any Boone County resident 18 or older, regardless of income, except for women who are pregnant or nursing. The initiative is financed by a two-year grant of about $230,000 from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

According to the Health Department, the adult smoking rate in Boone County is about 26 percent. The Missouri state smoking rate is 23.4 percent, which is one of the nation’s highest.

Protecting workers from secondhand smoke was one reason for the municipal ban on smoking in restaurants and bars that took effect in January. The 4,000 people who attend food handler classes will be among those targeted by the grant.

Linda Cooperstock, public health planner for the Health Department, said that one local restaurant owner has requested the smoking cessation program for his entire staff.

A recent state initiative, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered free nicotine gum or patches to people who are uninsured or on Medicaid. The offer received such an overwhelming response that not everyone was able to get the products. Between April 24 and May 10, the state Quitline received 1,980 calls, compared with 273 in the entire month of March. More than 1,400 people received a free four-week supply of nicotine patches or gum.

Nanci Gonder of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said that 174 people who wanted the products were turned away after state officials ended the offer to ensure the Quitline would have enough money to continue counseling throughout the year.

The state Quitline continues to provide over-the-phone counseling with tobacco cessation specialists. It also provides self-help programs, information and follow-up calls.

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