Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

TOP STORY >> More smokers quit habit in Arkansas

By JULIA HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

It is too early to tell whether or not the new state and federal tobacco taxes will have a great effect on the number of smokers statewide, but more Arkansans are quitting the habit.

At least one business says higher taxes are cutting into sales.

A clerk at a discount tobacco shop in Jacksonville says that although she’s not sure of the numbers, “you can definitely see a difference” in tobacco sales.

A supermarket branch manager says that the tax is “hurting us a lot.”

A Walgreens clerk in Jacksonville says, “A lot of people have switched to rolling their own cigarettes” instead of quitting altogether.

According to statistics released earlier this month from the Arkansas Department of Health, there are nearly 100,000 fewer adult smokers in Arkansas than there were in 2002, when the Health Department instituted its Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program.

In 2003, a quarter --of the state’s adults were smokers, as compared to 23 percent nationally. Now, the statistic has dropped to approximately 21 percent.

Health Department spokesman Ed Barham expects new statewide data to show a continued downward trend because of the new tax hike on tobacco products.

With both taxes piled on, a pack of cigarettes in Arkansas now costs $1.15 more than it did five months ago.

Though the July-released statistics do not reflect the months during which the taxes have been in effect, they should provide a point of reference when the same survey is conducted two years from now.

“We should be able to have some idea of whether or not the tax has had a substantial effect sometime next year,” Barham said, when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducts its annual behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey.

National statistics suggest that “for every 10 cents that the price is raised, you see a decrease in smoking of about 4 percent,” Barham said.

So if Arkansans follow suit, he predicts that “we should see a substantial drop to a certain point. We hope in a few years to get closer to 15 percent, but the decrease will slow before then.”

However, the economic hassle does not yet seem to have convinced the average addict to quit.

Despite the sluggish economy and increased taxes, it seems that the primary catalyst to quit might still be health concerns.

Smoking remains a leading cause of death in America. It triples the risk of dying from heart disease among middle-aged men and women and exposure to secondhand smoke causes an estimated 3,000 nonsmoker deaths every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

If you are one of the estimated 32.6 million Americans who wish to quit, consider the American Cancer Society’s tips to help you quit:

Consider using medication to help you quit. There are prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help with withdrawal symptoms or even help to reduce the urge to smoke.

Get help or ask for help from your health care provider.

Don't keep your intention to quit a secret. Include your friends and family in your quitting process; they can offer much-needed support.

Clear the places where you usually smoke of anything that reminds you of cigarettes – like lighters, ashtrays or matches. Tell other smokers not to smoke around you, and clean your house and car thoroughly to remove the smell of cigarettes.

Avoid places where smokers gather. Go to the movies, museums, or other places where smoking is not allowed.

Calm the nervous energy you may feel with physical and mental activities. Take long strolls and deep breaths of fresh air and find things to keep your hands busy, like crossword puzzles or gardening.

When the urge to smoke strikes, do something else. Call a supportive friend or exercise.