State launches health campaign with tobacco money
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - State health officials have a new weapon against smoking a $22 million campaign they hope with showcase the link between smoking and premature death.
The Healthy Maine campaign soon will intensify with toll-free quit-smoking hotlines statewide, doctors grilling Medicaid patients about smoking habits and a blitz of ads, including some designed by and for teens.
The $22 million is up from the $3.5 million the state spent last year trying to help Mainers quit smoking. The money comes from the $50 million chunk the state will get annually from the tobacco lawsuit settlement with cigarette manufacturers.
The Healthy Maine campaign is based on the premise that smoking, inactivity and poor nutrition lead to diseases that kill Mainers prematurely: cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, cancer and diabetes, according to Dr. Dora Mills, the head of the state Bureau of Health.
"Our health care costs are skyrocketing. One quarter of Maine people die from only four diseases. I find it astounding that you can narrow our death data to one sentence," she said.
The diseases are preventable in half the cases when people eat right, donâ€™t smoke and exercise, she said.
The focus of the campaign is on those Mills said are at the highest risk, the young and the poor.
The Healthy Maine campaign is modeled on a similar approach in California that helped bring it from a ranking of 25th in the nation for smoking in 1989 to having the second-lowest smoking rate in the nation in 1996, Mills said.
The state will give grants to communities, begin a large smoking-cessation effort and anti-tobacco campaign, work to improve smoking prevention and treatment advice from doctors and send workers to homes throughout the state to talk to parents of newborns.
"Think of it as good marketing," Mills said. "When Adidas markets a sneaker, they just donâ€™t put an ad on TV. They also make posters and T-shirts. They cover the market. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™re trying to do.
"Weâ€™re putting in different pieces of prevention so weâ€™ll have a much more effective product."
Maine leads the nation in youth smoking rates and has one of the worst rates of inactivity and poor nutrition, with about 57 Mainers overweight. The state is ranked 37th in the nation in per capita income, which also is related to unhealthy habits, Mills said.
Poverty doesnâ€™t cause disease, but lower-income people tend to have fewer choices and therefore less control over their lives, Mills said.
Maineâ€™s long winters and a lack of sidewalks in communities also hurts efforts for people to get out and get more exercise, such as by walking, Mills said. So the state will encourage community leaders to insist that developers build sidewalks whenever they propose housing developments.
State officials also will ask business to promote exercise, such as by encouraging workers to take 20-minute walks during the work day. The Bureau of Health will ask grocery stores to display and distribute heart-smart menus to shoppers and will urge restaurants to offer nutritious dishes.
"When you provide people with healthy choices that are tasty not lowfat cottage cheese on lettuce theyâ€™ll usually take them," she said.