State line helps smokers quit

Program averages five calls per minute

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's quit smoking line is giving would-be quitters the inside line for success.

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A study finds that smokers that use the state help line to quit have a 41 percent success rate. That's better than similar programs in three other states that researchers have compared it to.

The quit line has been averaging a call every five minutes, said quit line director Pat Reynaga. The fact that you can call the number 24 hours a day and talk to a nurse is a big part of the quit line's success, say its supporters.

"We have the gold standard of quit lines as far as around the country," said Marge Larson, American Lung Association of Alaska executive director.

The program combines techniques the experts say work best when used together: nurse-counselors always available, regular callbacks to check on quitters, an information kit and nicotine replacement patches.

The state says trying to quit on your own only works 3 percent to 4 percent of the time.

Providence Alaska Medical Center runs the line for the state for $200,000 annually. It's free to participants. A nurse helps each caller set up a plan for quitting. The state also provides the nicotine patches, said Lisa Aquino, Alaska's acting manager for anti-smoking efforts.

If they don't make it on the first attempt, smokers can start over.

The state hired the Multnomah County Health Department in Oregon to assess how well the program works. A yearlong study is still under way, but the first four months showed a 41 percent quit rate.

The researchers compared Alaska results to New York, Washington and Oregon, choosing those states because they had each done similar studies, and all offer nicotine patches, said Myde Boles, research supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department.

Alaska's rate was best. Quit rates for the other states: 34 percent in Oregon, 30 percent in Washington and 21 percent to 35 percent at various sites in New York.

Alaska's quit line was most effective in urban areas, such as Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Wasilla, Palmer, Seward and Kenai, where 43 percent of those surveyed quit smoking. Only 29 percent of rural residents made it.

Tony Harris, an Anchorage auto parts salesman, picked New Year's two years ago to quit. He'd seen a stop-smoking advertisement on TV, called the quit line and set a date. He used nicotine gum instead of patches.

"With those guys helping and with the gum ... I never did smoke again," Harris said.

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