Quit Tobacco Stories from Burlington, Rutland and Newport Celebrate National Public Health Week April 7-13

For Immediate Release: April 9, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - Fear of serious health problems convinced Baba Gee, 54, of Burlington, to quit smoking four years ago after several failed attempts.

Even when you know, intellectually, that smoking is harmful, the addiction is so strong you keep doing it anyway, Gee said. He kept smoking in 2003 despite the near-fatal heart attack of his live-in partner, who also smoked, and once broke a 14 year stretch without smoking by lighting up one cigarette while having a drink with friends.

"I tell everyone who wants to stop smoking to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW, get the nicotine treatment and one-on-one counseling," Gee said. "No matter when you quit it is going to be really hard, so just do it, get the hard part over with and start living. Within a week you are breathing easier."

According to The Health Status of Vermonters 2008 just published by the Vermont Department of Health, tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death in Vermont. In 2005, about 800 deaths could be tracked to smoking. Smoking leads to, or complicates, asthma, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, pneumonia, low birth weight in babies and infant mortality. An estimated 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to smoking.

Smoking rates have steadily declined in Vermont, particularly among students (grades 9-12), who cut the rate in half between 1995-2005 (40 percent to 18 percent). The 2010 goal is 16 percent.

"Young Vermonters have completely changed the way tobacco is perceived, and the vast majority have made the healthy decision not to smoke," said Health Commissioner Sharon Moffatt, RN, MSN. "It's a public health success story that will improve the overall health of our state for years to come."

While the lower smoking rates overall are encouraging, about 20 percent of women smoke during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy is the single most preventable risk factor for low birth weight babies in Vermont, and low birth weight is linked to infant mortality. According to a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, smoking in pregnancy also raises the risk of heart and other defects.

Health Department district offices in Rutland and Newport launched a pilot project in 2005 that offers gift cards as incentives for pregnant women to quit smoking. Free cessation services are available to all Vermonters.

"It's difficult to quit because I have friends who smoke," said Kayleen Cooper, 21, of Brandon. Cooper is eight months pregnant with her second child and looked to the Rutland district office for help. "It's an excellent program because they walk you through what you need to do. It's even helped my husband to quit smoking."

Two other groups of people have the highest rates of smoking in Vermont. About 19,000 adults (37%) living below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level smoke, and about 11,300 adults (40%) who have mental illness smoke. Also in Vermont, 31 percent of racial and ethnic minorities are current smokers, compared to 20 percent of whites.

The Vermont Quit Network at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) or VTQuitNetwork.org can provide guidance, support and motivation for anyone who wants to stop smoking, along with free nicotine replacement patches, gum or lozenges. Gee celebrates his success each year, and shares his story with anyone who will listen.

"On June 28, my partner and I will celebrate four years of not smoking," Gee said. "I am not a smoker. Period."

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