FRIDAY, May 27, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A pioneering program that gave a free nicotine patch to any New Yorker who asked for one has helped a lot of smokers to quit, New York City health officials say.
It's a first-of-its-kind effort that handed out 34,000 patches starting in April 2003, and a six-month follow-up of 1,300 smokers who took advantage of the offer found 33 percent of them had given up the habit, according a report in the May 28 issue of The Lancet.
In contrast, a survey of individuals who had asked for the patches but didn't get them because of mailing errors found that only 6 percent of them were able to quit, the report added.
"We're repeating the program, and what we are finding is the same enormous response that we had the first time around," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "Most people who smoke do want to quit."
In the new effort, the city has handed out another 33,000 patches in only 20 days, and has another 12,000 for the taking, Frieden announced at a press conference on Staten Island, the city borough with the highest percentage of smokers. The offer is available to all New York residents, who can request the patches by calling the city help line, 311.
"To the best of my knowledge, this program is unique," said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, scientific consultant to the American Lung Association. "There have been other programs offering such things as vouchers, but none as far as I know where they just gave the stuff away."
Edelman said the results of the program were "encouraging," but added that "it would be nice if the data [on quitting] were harder."
"The standard is not the six-month quit rate, but the 12-month rate," he explained. "It would be nice if they went back and asked again after 12 months."
But Frieden believes the six-month question provides adequate information. Someone who gives up smoking for six months has an 80 percent to 90 percent chance of kicking the habit entirely, he said.
The nicotine patch giveaway is part of a concerted effort by the New York City government to discourage smoking. It includes an increase in the tax on a pack of cigarettes to $3 as well as an effort "to make virtually every workplace smoke-free," he said.
New York banned smoking in bars in 2003. At the time, some critics feared the ban might be impossible to enforce and would destroy businesses, but those concerns failed to materialize and the ban has gradually become accepted. Big Apple smokers are now often seen stepping outside of bars to light up on the sidewalk, with many establishments placing ashtrays just outside their doors.
New York City is just one of many U.S. localities slowly winning the war against smoking, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting Thursday that the percentage of American adults who smoke cigarettes continues to decline.
Data from the 2003 National Health Interview Survey found that 21.6 percent of American adults are now smokers. That's down from 22.5 percent in 2002 and 22.8 percent in 2001. In fact, the 45 million American adults who continue to smoke are now outnumbered by the 46 million who have already quit, according to data published in May 27 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
For help in kicking the nicotine habit, head to the National Cancer Institute.