Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Arming vets in fight against smoking

Arming vets in fight against smoking

By Stephen Smith
Globe Staff / November 18, 2008

There was, of course, the tin of beef stew. And the chewing gum and toilet paper, too, jammed inside the rations that sustained Warren Quinlan during his tour of duty in Vietnam. And, always, there were cigarettes, four of them, just enough to ignite a habit that would smolder for decades.

"When you're in combat and waiting and sitting around, if there's a cigarette there, that might ease a little bit of the tension," said Quinlan, now 61, who spent about a year and a half in Vietnam in the late 1960s. "So you puff away, and one leads to another, and here you are, 40 years later, and you're still smoking."

Until yesterday, when he became the public face of a state campaign to reduce smoking among military veterans by providing them with nicotine patches, at no cost.

To kick off the campaign, Quinlan bared his left arm, and the state's secretary of health and human services, Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, applied a nicotine-replacement patch. By calling a state-run hot line (800-879-8678), veterans and their families can receive a month's worth of patches, which retails for about $100, and a connection to telephone counseling.

There are thousands of others like Quinlan in the state, health authorities said. Officials said veterans use tobacco at a rate about 30 percent higher than Massachusetts adults overall.

About 18 percent of Bay State adults smoked regularly, according to figures from 2005 through 2007. The rate for veterans: 24 percent.

Since the start of the year, the Department of Public Health has been crafting campaigns that aim to cut smoking among groups most prone to use tobacco. But it turned out that it wouldn't be enough to address veterans only.

"One thing veterans consistently said was, you can't target us without targeting our families," said the state's public health commissioner, John Auerbach, whose agency will spend $1.5 million this budget year on nicotine patches and counseling, including for veterans. "If the spouse or the adult children smoke, it's more difficult for the veteran to quit."

So families were added to nicotine patch eligibility. The patches help a smoker kick the habit by providing a diminishing amount of nicotine.

Tom Kelley, the state's secretary of veterans' services, was just a 12-year-old kid from West Roxbury helping out with religious services at the local VA hospital when he got hooked.

"The vets up there would give me these little four-packs of cigarettes, and what 12-year-old could turn that down?" Kelley recalled. "That's how I started smoking - and I smoked for 43 years. I'm sure there are a lot of stories like that."

Dr. Michael Fiore has heard them. He runs the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin. Cigarettes distributed during World War II, he said, spawned a generation of smokers, with six of every 10 US men identified as tobacco users in the 1950s.

By the end of the Vietnam War, the military had stopped giving away cigarettes and began discouraging smoking. Still, Fiore said, studies show that up to half of military personnel return from Iraq hooked on tobacco. "There are still substantial social pressures, combined with an incredibly tense environment, that contribute to another generation at risk," he said.

Stephen Smith can be reached at stsmith@globe.com.


I use to hate the Pell Mells the rest were good

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