Middle schoolers help smokers kick their habits

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Steamboat Springs Middle School students dropped magnets, anti-stress "squeezy" balls and brochures with tips about quitting smoking into little white bags Monday.

Judy Hiester, outgoing coordinator for the Visiting Nurse Association's Tobacco Prevention Program, quizzed the sixth-graders during the process: "Which is more addictive: Nicotine or heroin?"

The students didn't hesitate: "Nicotine!"

The addictive aspect of tobacco explains why it is so hard to quit and why campaigns such as the Great American Smoke Out have gained momentum. Thursday marks the 28th annual event, which challenges smokers to not reach for cigarettes or chewing tobacco for a day.

Free Quit Kits, assembled by the sixth-graders, will be available throughout Routt County for those who hope to quit for good -- a change more than 85 percent of Colorado smokers consider, according to a 2000 survey by the State Tobacco Education and Preventative Partnership, a division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

"It gives these people an opportunity to act on their desire to quit," Hiester said. "Even if it's just for a day, that's a start."

The Great American Smoke Out aims to make people aware of free counseling and support available through organizations such as Colorado Quitline and Quitnet.

"The attitude that you have to do it all alone is quite pervasive," Hiester said, noting that tobacco users who quit with counseling and nicotine replacement have significantly better chances of quitting for good than those who take the "cold turkey" approach.

About 11 percent of Routt County residents smoked in 2001, compared to almost 20 percent statewide, according to a STEPP survey.

However, the survey also found that almost 10 percent of men in Routt County used smokeless tobacco compared with 7 percent throughout the state.

Smoking rates may be declining, but anti-smoking advocates are up against the tobacco industry's well-funded marketing campaigns that are increasingly promoting smokeless tobacco products, said Teresa Wright, the VNA's new Tobacco Prevention Program Coordinator.

"We can't really play ball with them, but we can get the word out and make people more aware," she said.

Free Quit Kits will be available Thursday through Nov. 26 at the customer service counters of City Market, Safeway and Hayden Mercantile; Lyon's Drug, the Clark Store, Bonfiglio Drug and the Black Dog Inn (Oak Creek), Yampa Public Library and the Toponas Country General Store.

Spanish language kits will be available at the Visiting Nurse Association office in Steamboat Springs.

For help quitting, call the Colorado Quitline at 1-800-639-QUIT or go to www.co.quitnet.co...

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