Colorado Online Support Group Helps Smokers Quit
Sep. 25--Jenifer Adams tried the patch. She tried nicotine gum. She tried cold turkey. None of it worked until she tried the Internet.
Now the 35-year-old teacher has thousands of people online who root for her, congratulate her and persuade her not to take another puff. She says she has been cigarette-free for three months thanks to online support group Colorado QuitNet.
"QuitNet helps me to stop listening to that voice that says, `Oh you can just have one cigarette; it's not going to hurt you,"' Adams said.
Colorado is one of four states nationwide footing the $150,000 annual bill for the online program.
QuitNet, a company in Boston that runs the service, typically charges users $15 a month for access to personally tailored quitting plans, medical advice, local resources and online chats with thousands of other users.
For Colorado users, it's free.
The funding comes from the $100 million a year outlay the state receives from a national settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies. About 15 percent of those dollars goes to smoking cessation programs, and the remaining money goes to a trust fund or to sponsor other health care programs.
"The combination of health care savings in addition to the human toll tobacco takes, it's an incredibly economical investment," said Jill Conley, spokeswoman from the state Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, part of the department of health.
Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 430,700 American lives each year and cause 87 percent of lung cancer cases and most cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The habit also costs America $97.2 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity, according to the American Lung Association.
"I feel so much better," Adams said. One of 2,200 Coloradans who used QuitNet, she said smoking made her tired, her nose run, her throat sore and made her more susceptible to colds.
She nonetheless needed the moral support from people online in order to steer clear of cigarettes.
"When you get on and you see all the people who are doing it right along with you, it's really motivating," she said. "I see people on their first or second day, and I know I don't want to go back there." QuitNet has heard similar feedback from some of its 1 million users worldwide. But small response to surveys has made it difficult to determine if the service truly helps a majority of smokers quit.
Of the 20 percent who responded to a recent QuitNet survey, half had stopped smoking. The company hopes more will answer a second survey.
Other research has shown that Colorado smokers do want to kick the habit.
A 2001 study by the Colorado Department of Health showed that 85 percent of Colorado smokers said they wanted to quit, and about half of them tried every year. Only 3 percent of them were able to do so successfully.
Conley said unlike the department of health's phone line -- 1-800-639-7848 -- the Internet offers 24-hour support from people who are going through the same challenge.
That online community kept Ken Foust from taking a drag during a weak moment 30 days after he quit smoking.
The Denver electrical contractor, who was trying to break his 20-year habit, logged online at midnight and told users he desperately craved a cigarette.
"They told me, `Just go to bed,"' he said.
Foust's decision is also reinforced by numbers.
On Tuesday, the website told him he had added one month, nine days and 12 hours to his life because of the health benefits of quitting. And he saved $774 by not buying 5,174 cigarettes.
"It's a pretty good habit to get rid of, I'd say," he said.