SIKESTON -- A new survey shows that nearly two-thirds of Missouri's smokers want to kick the habit. Fortunately for Southeast Missouri smokers, the region has several resources to help them do just that.
Leslie Freeman, community policy specialist for the Tobacco Use Prevention Program for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services office in Cape Girardeau, said there's nothing new today with smoking trends in Southeast Missouri.
"It's still bad," Freeman said. "We still have a high teenage use rate of smoking. We still have a high adult rate of smoking. The good thing about this community data profile is it's specific to Missouri and its regions."
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services survey released on Sept. 30 said 64 percent of Missouri smokers say they intend to quit in the next six months. The two-year study also found that 56 percent of adults support laws to ban smoking in public workplaces, including restaurants and bars.
Taney County has the highest county smoking rate in the state at just over 40 percent, while Nodaway County's 13.9 percent rate is the state's lowest.
Southeast Missouri counties fall closer to the state's highest rate with Scott County's rate being 28 percent; Mississippi County's 37 percent, New Madrid County's 34 percent and Stoddard County's 34 percent.
"It's something that local public health departments and Missouri Department of Health and Human Services are aware of, and they do try to put money in the Bootheel counties to help raise awareness, and that's where you have to start," Freeman said.
Brenda Freed, public educator for Scott County Health Department, said health officials are trying to address tobacco use in every way possible.
Freed said local public health departments conduct Smokebusters, a program sponsored by Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services which works with teens in high school to educate them about the dangers of tobacco use.
"We go a step further as to why it's dangerous for us, whether it's for our health or whether it's for our money aspects. We talk about how advertising is misleading to teens and how it targets teens to use tobacco," Freed said.
Once the students are educated and know about tobacco, they go into the elementary schools and mentor the younger students about the dangers of tobacco use. Some ways they educate the students are through a play, puppet show or public service announcement.
"Last year we were able to do do some small public service announcements for TV programs or for local cable companies to provide them with an anti-tobacco message,which got the kids really involved," Freed said. "We had a group from University of Missouri-St. Louis come down and do the shoot, editing, and the final project was pretty good."
Not only do the students do classroom presentations, but they do an adult presentations whether at a town hall meeting or another community function, Freed said.
"Kids are learning about tobacco dangers. If you talk to someone who uses tobacco, they usually started as a teen. Most smokers don't pick up cigarettes at 25 and start to smoke," Freed said.
Freed also conducts Freedom from Smoking classes for work sites in Southeast Missouri.
"We were pleased with the number of work sites we reached this past year," Freed said. "We went to several work sites to help people quit smoking. Each class we did have success of those who quit."
Of course, not everyone quits when they try, Freed said. In fact, statistics show it takes at least three times before smokers successfully quit, she said.
Another organization, Southeast Missouri Cancer Coalition's Breathe Easy, addresses the environmental aspect of secondhand smoke, Freed said.
"In the past in Sikeston, we have encouraged restaurants to be smoke free," Freed said about Breathe Easy's Coalition.
Freed also noted adults with lower incomes smoke at higher rates than those with higher incomes. Nearly 40 percent of adults earning $15,000 a year or less reported current smoking compared to 14 percent of adults that earn $75,000 or more per year.
Regardless of the survey's findings, quitting tobacco use is a very hard thing to do, Freed said.
"What works for one might not work for the other," Freed said, adding there's different types of ways to quit smoking.
"Findings show the most successful way to quit smoking is to quit cold turkey," Freed said.
But for some, cigarette replacement products like nicotine gums and patches are also helpful, Freed said. New medications to quit smoking are also available.
"The smoker has to come to the point where they want to quit," Freed said. "My husband smokes, and I would love to wave a magic wand and he quit, or I wish I could do it for him. Someone who uses tobacco has to make their mind up to do it. Until they come to that point, it's not going to happen."