State's anti-smoking telephone service buzzing
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The number of calls to the state's help line to quit smoking has increased 10 fold since a slick television campaign began, state officials said.
''The whole focus is to get smokers to stop smoking and one of the ways to do that is to provide information,'' state Health Department spokesman John Signor said. He said 8,200 calls were received last month, upping the average to 3,000 calls monthly since the TV campaign began in November.
From 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday not only are recorded messages available on Quitline, but trained personnel answer questions about smoking cessation programs. Specialists at the toll-free Quitline (1-888-609-6292) operated at the state's Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo will also return calls for people who leave messages off-hours.
''These skilled professionals are dedicated and committed to ensuring New Yorkers have the knowledge and assistance they need to quit smoking,'' said state Health Commissioner Dr. Antonia Novello.
Quitline is part of a $60.5 million anti-smoking campaign which is being funded through court settlements with tobacco companies. The state will get half of the $25 billion due to the state, New York City will get nearly 27 percent and counties outside the city will share the rest.
It's a big program, at least on paper, critics say.
''Quitline and the TV ads are really just a small piece of what the state is supposed to be doing to curb tobacco use,'' said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. ''The state has received roughly a $1.5 billion form the tobacco settlement and raised another half-billion dollars in the cigarette tax ... the state has spent a ton of money and has done very little.''
Some of the tobacco money is to go to fund the new Family Health Plus medical insurance program for the working poor, which is still awaiting federal approval.
While supporting Quitline, Horner said that even if the current rate of calls continues, only 36,000 people will call - not all of whom will quit smoking. He estimated more than 4 million people smoke in the state.
As for the Pataki administration campaign, ''I wouldn't even call it a major battle,'' said Horner, who suspects much of the tobacco money was put into reserves or to fund tax cuts. ''It's more like a skirmish.''
Novello counters that.
''Our statewide media campaign targeting adults and cessation is paying big dividends for New Yorkers,'' she said. ''Not only are we sending a clear message not to smoke, we are also providing significant information and proven cessation methods.''
That campaign includes TV public service announcements featuring supermodel Christy Turlington talking about how her father died of lung cancer and her own success in quitting; a dramatization of a grandfather who quit for his granddaughter's first birthday; and three spots featuring a man identified as ''Rick,'' whose wife died of lung cancer in her mid 40s.
The next TV blitz will battle youth smoking.
''Thanks to this campaign, we're going to see fewer smokers in New York state,'' Signor said. ''We're convinced of that.''
Jack Burns isn't.
As manager of the Smokers Paradise cigarette shop in Troy, Burns said customers don't show angst over quitting. Most don't even want to.
''I think they made their decision,'' he said.
He said he never hears a word about the state's anti-smoking efforts. The reductions in cigarette sales touted by state officials is more likely smokers turning to the Internet and other states to avoid New York's high cigarette taxes, he said.
''I think it's a cute commercial, but people don't think about it ... It's a mental thing. If you don't want to quit, it's not going happen,'' said Burns, who quit smoking 17 years ago.