State's stop-smoking hotline goes into service
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) A hotline has gone into operation to dispense information on how to stop smoking the first of several moves the state will make in 2000 to combat the use of tobacco among New Yorkers.
The toll-free line will be manned by employees of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo who are specially trained to steer smokers onto the path of quitting.
Callers will be sent a stop-smoking guide developed at Roswell Park, given information about smoking cessation programs run by local governments near their homes, offered facts about nicotine patches and other aids to quitting and told to work out a cessation strategy with their physicians.
''Sometimes people need a little bit of motivation about why they ought to do this,'' said Dr. Michael Cummings, chairman of the Department of Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Roswell Park. ''Plus, there are a lot of quack therapies out there. Some people spend an awful lot of money on them. We try to stay up to date and point out to people what has and hasn't worked.''
Acupuncture, for instance, has not been shown to be effective at helping people to stop smoking, Cummings said.
The hotline 1-888-609-6292 is manned between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Off-hours callers are asked to leave a name, number and address on an answering machine.
The line is a first step, of sorts, in the state's expanded anti-smoking efforts. Gov. George Pataki and the Legislature have agreed to put $55 million in state and federal money toward television advertisements and other elements of a campaign to get people to stop smoking or not to start.
Also, starting March 1, the state's tax on a pack of cigarettes will jump from 56 cents to a nation's-high $1.11. That increase is designed to raise revenues to provide more people state-subsidized health care and to make cigarettes that much less attractive to smokers.
Cummings said a Web site should be completed within six months to provide Internet users with the same stop-smoking information and advice that callers to the hotline can get.
New York becomes the third state with a smoking hotline after California and Massachusetts.
A hotline is one of the ''important building blocks'' of a state-sponsored anti-tobacco campaign, according to Russ Sciandra of a Center for Tobacco-Free New York.
''When people decide they want to quit, frequently there is an informational deficit,'' Sciandra said. ''People ask, `Where can I go to quit? Does a patch really work?' It's good for them to have an authoritative source they can go to.''
Sciandra, who is among those tobacco foes who thinks the state's anti-smoking campaign is underfunded, said Roswell Park has a topnotch reputation in fighting smoking.
Cummings said that Roswell Park put out one of the first large-scale studies linking smoking with lung cancer, in the early 1950s. It also developed one of the first machines to measure the amount of tar in cigarettes.
Roswell Park has the capacity to expand the hotline program, which is being paid through a federal grant, if the line is inundated with calls starting when the state's cigarette tax almost doubles or when anti-tobacco television ads begin running later this year, Cummings said.
''We think there will be a huge response to this,'' Cummings said.
If the state intends to run hard-hitting anti-smoking ads, then it also has the responsibility to tell people how to kick their habits, Sciandra said
''If you're going to scare the bejesus out of people about smoking, then you have to give them the information on how they can start the quitting process,'' he said.