Monroe starts GottaQuit.com for smoker teens
If you're a Monroe County teenager wanting to kick a smoking habit, you can now go on the Internet and get some free counseling.
To the sound of techno music, the county's new Web site -- www.GottaQuit.com -- provides young smokers with a variety of anti-smoking messages.
You can click on such sections as the "Talk to Us Live" coaching center, which offers instant message counseling to stop smoking, and "Countdown to Quit," which provides daily e-mail reminders of the deadline you've set yourself.
"Simply put, this innovative, new program will target and encourage ... our county's teenagers who seek to quit," said County Executive Jack Doyle, at a news conference Monday at the Ebenezer Watts Conference Center, 49 S. Fitzhugh St.
The county's new campaign, which will include advertising and a telephone hotline, is funded indirectly by the county's share of the national tobacco settlement. The county will spend $500,000 on the initiative this year.
Smoking cessation coaches -- some of them ex-teen smokers -- provide the counseling over the Web and will work out of the University of Rochester Medical Center. Such counseling will be available 3 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; eventually it will be extend to weekends.
Any teen between the ages of 14 and 18 who lives in Monroe County can use the free Web services.
The advertising for this campaign -- TV and radio spots, along with billboards and ads on buses -- encourages teens to use the site, believed to be one of the first of its kind.
Deborah Ossip-Klein, director of the smoking research program at UR's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, stressed the importance of helping the large number of teens who smoke. "The program is designed to fill that gap," she said.
The county has come under criticism for spending a relatively small amount of the money from the national tobacco settlement for anti-smoking uses.
To date, the county received $15.8 million in tobacco payments as well as $142.5 million raised by the sale of bonds backed by annual tobacco settlement payments.
Hillary Clarke, regional advocacy director of the American Cancer Society, said the county Web site is a "very good first step," but she said more needed to be done for prevention and adult smoking cessation.
Suffolk County, she added, is spending $6 million this year on smoking programs -- including efforts to reach children.
The Democratic caucus of the Monroe County Legislature will hold a forum later this month to encourage the county to reconsider its use of money from the tobacco settlement.
Doyle spokesman John Riley said that $500,000 was freed up for the new program because money from the sale of tobacco-settlement bonds was used to pay off debt owed by the county.
Almost a year ago, the county said it would spend $250,000 on a telephone line that would provide counseling to teens wanting to stop smoking. But after talking to teen smokers, the county decided that the Web site would be more effective, said Riley.
So the county has used the $250,000 for the Web site project, which will soon incorporate the quit line.