By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools
If you're a smoker or tobacco chewer, it is likely you are now spending significantly more money on your habit than ever. Health advocates note the recent increase in tobacco prices will mean a reduction in tobacco use, and state health officials stand ready to aid tobacco users quit their habit, saving them money and possibly saving their lives.
That help comes in the form of the Montana Tobacco Quit Line, a free service available to any Montana tobacco user who wants to kick the habit.
As of Jan. 1, a pack of cigarettes costs $1 more than before, and the price of a pack of moist chew tobacco increased by 50 cents. Other tobacco products rose 25 percent in price. If the experience of other states serves as a guide, higher prices will mean that fewer children and young people will take up tobacco and more people already using tobacco will have an added incentive to quit.
"We know that if we can deter kids and adolescents from starting to use tobacco, we can greatly reduce the number of young people who go on to become adult smokers," said Georgiana Gulden of the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, part of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. "With our free Quit Line, we also can help adults who want to quit."
Statistics show that cost increases cause tobacco users to consume less and lead them to be more likely to consider quitting their habit.
"From a public health perspective, what we get from higher tobacco prices is a four-way-win situation," Gulden said. "We reduce the rate at which young people begin using tobacco, reduce the rate of usage by existing users, lower rates of death and disability, and generate more funds to help prevent and treat tobacco-related illness."
The services provided by the Montana Quit Line are based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' clinical guidelines. The Quit Line offers free counseling, backup medical support as appropriate, and other services geared to help tobacco users achieve success in giving up their habit. The service has proven to be both highly popular and effective with Montana tobacco users, and initial results indicate a success rate superior to other states' quit lines. Anyone can call the Quit Line directly, but many referrals have come from doctors and other health care professionals concerned about their patients' health. Doctors caring for pregnant women are especially willing to refer their patients to the Quit Line since smoking during pregnancy can cause serious health problems to both mother and child.
The Montana Tobacco Quit Line can be reached toll-free at (866) 485-QUIT or (866) 485-7848. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Counselors answer calls 363 days a year, so if you want to quit, you can call and start the process now.
Healthy Kids, Healthy Montana, a group that supported the ballot initiative this past November in which voters backed raising the price of tobacco to consumers, says 2,000 Montana children become tobacco users each year and 1,400 Montana children born this year will eventually die prematurely of tobacco-related illness. The group also notes that every pack of cigarettes sold in the state costs Montanans $7.18 in higher insurance rates and increased health care services for the poor, equal to a cost of $246 per year to every household in Montana.
With the price increase, a pack of cigarettes now costs an estimated average of $5. That will cost the one-pack-a-day smoker about $35 per week, or $1,800 per year. If that $35 per week was invested at an annual interest rate of just 6 percent, the return over a period of years would be impressive:
$5,978.00 over three years
$10,606.00 over five years
If those numbers sound a little confusing, consider this: a 25- year-old pack-a-day smoker will spend over $72,000 on tobacco by age 65, and that figure does not include adjustments for inflation or future tax increases. That figure also does not take into account lost wages and medical bills associated with a tobacco-related illness.