50 Years Of Anti-Tobacco Efforts. Can RI Quit Now?

Jan 8, 2014

Can we slack off on prevention efforts now? Not if we want to prevent the estimated 1,750 tobacco-related deaths every year, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. And that doesn't take into account the number of years lives are shortened by exposure to second-hand smoke.

Credit Wikimedia Commons

50 years ago this Saturday, the U.S. Surgeon General issued the first report of the Surgeon General's Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. It was the first official acknowledgment that smoking causes cancer and chronic bronchitis. And it kicked off decades of prevention and anti-tobacco efforts, including the early step of requiring tobacco companies to put a warning label on cigarette packs. Thanks to those efforts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly half of all adults who have ever smoked have quit. That's pretty amazing, considering how addictive nicotine can be.

And while our numbers are a bit below the national average, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, thousands of Rhode Islanders still smoke, including kids and adults. And according to every doctor and public health expert I've ever talked to, that's no good. What's more, the Campaign says Rhode Island could be spending more on preventing tobacco use, ranking us 42nd among states for spending a small percentage of what the CDC recommends states spend.

But here are some bright spots.

- Providence has attracted national attention for its anti-tobacco efforts, as I reported here.

- Coverage for smoking cessation treatment is required under the Affordable Care Act (see this helpful breakdown from the American Lung Association). And that coverage takes effect as of this month, if you've signed up for health insurance.

- Want help quitting? There's an app for that, which I found on smokefree.gov: http://smokefree.gov/apps-quitstart. Also, Rhode Island's own smoking cessation program, Quit Now RI, offers all kinds of resources, including a hotline, a mobile treatment program, information on the kinds of cessation aids doctors can provide and insurers must cover, and what's available for you if you're low income or don't have insurance (which is, it seems, a lot). The big message seems to be: get help and don't go it alone. Good luck!