HEALTH: Maryland falls down in providing smokers resources to quit, report says

HEALTH •

Smokers in Maryland aren’t provided enough help to quit, according to a new report by the American Lung Association.

Maryland ranks third from the bottom of all states in providing resources to help smokers quit, according to the Lung Association.

The findings came as a surprise to Maryland health officials, said Frances Phillips, deputy secretary for Public Health Services at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“We don’t think it projects the whole picture of what’s going on in Maryland by any means,” said Phillips. “Maryland is doing really well, particularly compared to other states.”

Maryland has cut the smoking rate more than 30 percent over the last 10 years — double the national average, according to Vincent DeMarco of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. It now has the fifth-lowest smoking rate in the country — significantly lower than some of the reports’ highest ranking states.

For example, Oklahoma, which ranks fourth from the top in resources, has one of the highest smoking rates in the country at 24.7 percent of the adult population. Only 15 percent of Marylanders smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the report didn’t consider smoking rates. The rankings were largely based on state-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which Maryland lacks.

Smoking has been proven to greatly increase the risk of strokes, lung cancer and coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

DeMarco points to the state’s tobacco tax and smoke-free law as examples of its commitment to reducing the number of smokers.

While these measures have encouraged people to stop smoking, “what they need is help with cessation advice, an active line to call and low- income individuals need help with patches and accessories to help quit,” DeMarco said.

Maryland is one of two states without tobacco cessation benefits for state employees. The other state is Louisiana.

“I don’t understand it personally because Maryland has a vast interest in public health,” Williams said.

Tobacco prevention programs are another area where “Maryland isn’t doing great,” she said.

Funding for such programs has fallen significantly in the last few years. Of an estimated $550 million in tobacco-generated revenue from settlement payments and tobacco taxes, only .8 percent is spent on tobacco prevention programs, according to a report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Resources like the Quitline, a hotline for smoking cessation services, have been forced to work with tighter budgets. Maryland has budgeted $1.20 per smoker, a fraction of the $10.53 per smoker recommended by CDC.

Additional funding comes from the federal government, since 30 percent of people who call the Quitline are enrolled in Medicaid, a program equally funded between state and federal government, said Phillips. The state was one of the first to receive federal money for the Quitline.

Despite its low funding, Williams applauded Maryland for supplying patches or gum to Quitline callers free of charge.

And the Quitline, staffed by professional counselors, never has a busy signal, said Phillips. “The services are there.”

— by Emily Hooper, Capital News Service