FDA wants county to quit smoking

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Trumbull County smokes. Heavily.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ranks Trumbull County as one of the most smoker-heavy counties in the country, with well more than twice the national average of the population puffing on cigarettes.

The FDA hopes to do something about that with a $60 million initiative called Every Try Counts.

“We’re launching the first-ever campaign to deliver a quitting message in a positive and motivational way, placed directly in the places they buy their cigarettes,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

The message of Every Try Counts is “try, try, try again.” The point is to celebrate every attempt to quit as a step in the right direction, he said.

“Smokers are already walking around with that negative baggage with past attempts to quit that didn’t work,” Zeller said. “They have some degree of interest in quitting. The problem is they fear that the next attempt will fail, too.”

The nationwide program, funded by user fees assessed against the tobacco industry, begins this month in 35 of the most smoker-dense counties in the United States. Trumbull County is on the list.

According to Michael Felberbaum, FDA press officer, the rate of smoking is 36 percent of the adult population in Trumbull County; 22.5 percent in Ohio; and about 15 percent nationwide. The only other county in the state that will be part of the Every Try Counts program is Scioto County in south-central Ohio, with 37 percent of adults smoking.

Last year, the national County Health Ranks and Roadmaps reported 19 percent of Trumbull County adults smoked, but noted there was an 18 to 20 percent margin of error in the study, which was based on 2015 statistics.

For the next two years, the FDA will post signs with encouraging messages at gas stations and convenience stores in the target counties, Zeller said.

“Almost 90 percent of all cigarettes are bought in gas stations or convenience stores,” Zeller said. “We’re going to go where the smokers are and frankly, where the cigarettes are.”

The signs will be treated as paid advertising, with the stores having the right to refuse but to be compensated for putting them up, he said.

“(Smokers) are bombarded with advertising and marketing of cigarettes,” he said. “We want them to rethink that.”

The FDA also teamed with the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute to create EveryTryCounts.gov, a website that offers a mobile app to track smoking triggers, sign-ups for text messages of encouragement, access to trained cessation coaches and information about the risks of smoking, among other features, Zeller said.

Remarkable strides have been made in kicking the habit over the years, he said.

“I grew up in the 1960s. I remember growing up in a household where both my parents smoked and we made ashtrays for them in arts and crafts,” he said. “Back then, there was about a 44 percent smoking rate.”

Cigarette smoking is responsible for an estimated 480,000 deaths in the United States each year. It is the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the nation, Zeller said. But even when smokers know that, quitting just isn’t a simple thing to do, he said.

When a person lights up a cigarette, nicotine flows into the brain in less than 10 seconds after each puff. Over time, the brain of a smoker has been rewired to seek the next dose of nicotine, Zeller said.

“It is a powerful addiction. It’s why some addiction experts say nicotine is more powerful than cocaine or heroin. It is so important for all of us to understand how hard it is to quit,” he said. “We need to understand the nature of the addiction and be there to support the smoker.”

Zeller said the campaign celebrates each quit attempt as a positive step toward success, because research shows those who have tried quitting before are more likely to try again, and those who have tried to quit multiple times have a higher likelihood of quitting for good.

By displaying new motivational ads in and around gas stations and convenience stores — retail locations where smokers face a multitude of triggers and that typically feature cigarette advertisements — the campaign will encourage smokers to rethink their next pack of cigarettes at the most critical of places, the point of sale, Zeller said.