BLOOMINGTON — Smokers who want to quit will have another reason beginning Sunday, and this one socks them in the wallet and purse instead of the heart and lungs.
That’s when the state’s cigarette tax increases from 98 cents to $1.98 a pack.
“This will help people who are on the edge,” said Michelle Brown, health and wellness coordinator with OSF St. Joseph Medical Center’s Center for Healthy Lifestyles.
“Anytime there is a cost increase, that gives some people additional incentive to say, ‘Now’s the time,’” added Walt Howe, director of the McLean County Health Department.
But the increase may do little to deter heavy smokers.
“For the people who are addicted, the price doesn’t matter,” said Dr. John Burr, a pulmonologist with Illinois Heart & Lung Associates, noting some people, for example, smoke to try to reduce anxiety.
The additional state revenue will offset further Medicaid cuts and should discourage some younger people from starting
smoking, said Howe and MaLinda Hillman, administrator of the Livingston County Public Health Department.
“Cigarette smoking contributes to the cost of health care, so I think it’s appropriate to tax it,” Hillman said. Smoking can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, various cancers, stroke and heart disease.
In Livingston County, about 26 percent of adults smoke, Hillman said. In McLean County, the figure is about 16 percent, Howe said. While both numbers have declined in recent years, “we still have a lot of work to do,” Hillman said.
Previous tax increases and anti-smoke ordinances contributed to modest declines in smoking. Health professionals expect the new increase to have the same impact.
But smokers need support to become non-smokers:
- Write down why you want to quit, advised Allison Wholf, wellness specialist with Advocate BroMenn Medical Center. Refer to that list as you prepare to quit and when cravings strike after you quit.
- Consider the benefits. Studies show heart rate and carbon monoxide levels in your blood begin to improve almost immediately after quitting. Within a few weeks, your risk of heart attack drops, lung function improves, you cough less frequently and aren’t as short of breath.
- Get professional help.
The Illinois Tobacco Quitline (866-QUIT-YES) will help smokers develop a quit plan, said Hillman and Jan Morris, McLean County Health Department health promotion program manager. Quitline staff then calls smokers’ local health department to arrange for nicotine patches.
Brown at OSF St. Joseph (309-661-5151) and Wholf at Advocate BroMenn (309-268-5900) are American Lung Association facilitators who teach smoking cessation courses and offer one-on-one counseling.
- Talk with your doctor about medicine that may help. Medicine combined with counseling substantially increases the odds of successfully quitting.
Burr generally recommends Chantix, which decreases withdrawal symptoms and reduces the feelings of pleasure from smoking. For depressed patients, Burr recommends Wellbutrin, an antidepressant that may ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
- Set a quit date — preferably a busy, fun day when you will be with supportive people.
- Develop strategies to deal with your cravings. Assemble a quit kit that may include sugarless gum and a healthy snack, pens or a stress ball to keep your hands busy, a picture of a loved one and a card with the Quitline phone number, Morris said.
- Address smoking triggers. For example, leave the kitchen table immediately after breakfast, don’t take work breaks with smokers and find alternative stress-reduction techniques. Keep yourself busy with exercise and hobbies.
- Clean your clothes and your house and have your car detailed so nothing smells like cigarette smoke.
“Tell yourself, ‘I’m a non-smoker,’” Howe said.