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Who Says Quitters Never Win?

Those who quit smoking may win $2,500 in Kentucky

FRIDAY, Aug. 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you live in Kentucky and you're considering quitting smoking, your state just gave you 2,500 reasons to kick the habit.

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department has just launched "Bluegrass Quit and Win 2001," a contest designed to help tobacco users quit with a $2,500 cash reward as an incentive.

But the real incentive, says Todd Warnick, director of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program, Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, is that 29.7 percent of Kentucky adults smoke -- a figure second only to Nevada -- and the state also has lung cancer rates that are three times the national average.

The contest, which will run from Sept. 10 to Oct. 9, is open to Kentucky citizens over 18 who smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes or use snuff, chewing or loose-leaf tobacco. If the contestant can quit their tobacco use for 30 days -- and a buddy can vouch for it -- the contestant has a chance to win $2,500. (Next year, Warnick hopes to include a prize for the support buddy.) Runners-up can win $500.

It's the first statewide contest of its kind in Kentucky, although Canada and other European countries and even the World Health Organization have organized similar contests before.

"We're trying to get more people to quit tobacco than probably all efforts in Kentucky over the last five years combined," says Warnick. Based on the number of e-mails and phone calls that the program has received, he believes that it will work.

"These people are going to work hard," he says. "For most of these people, it's going to be one of the hardest things they've ever done in their life. They're going to earn that money."

Not only do contestants have a shot at the money, but they can also save plenty of money in cigarette costs to boot.

But once the contest is over, and the monetary incentive is gone, will the effect on cessation last? "Twenty to 30 percent will likely permanently quit as a result of the contest," predicts Warnick.

During that month, he says, most will go through withdrawal and make behavioral changes. Their buddy, who has to be a nonuser of tobacco, can provide support.

Contestants can also used medically approved nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches, gums, nasal sprays and drugs, and the health department offers a toll-free telephone number to cessation counselors.

Warnick sought advice from a similar program in Ontario, Canada when designing the Kentucky program. The Quit Smoking 2001 contest, which ran between March 1 and March 31, 2001, followed a similar contest in 2000. It offered a (smoke-free) Caribbean cruise for two, DVD players and a his-and-hers Gucci watch set for its winners, while winning buddies received $250.

One month after the contest ended, 74 percent of the participants were still smoke-free. "Three months after the contest . . . [46] percent of them are smoke-free," says Robin Holmes, program manager of the Ontario contest. "That's pretty good news. As time goes on, we can expect that to go down, but at one year follow-up, we've got 31 percent smoke-free."

However, Holmes notes that the contest, being a health initiative, did accept entrants who had quit in January, usually as a result of a New Year's resolution. She says that this may explain why the contest has such a good rate of participants who quit permanently.

"What happens is that at about three months, somebody may be likely to relapse," says Holmes. "The first few months are the hardest part of quitting. The rate of relapse is the greatest within the first few months."

"This contest acts as an intervention for them. . . That will help keep them motivated."

Every participant also receives a certificate of achievement, which Holmes says is meant to help those who are tempted or might have started smoking again after the contest is over.

Warnick admits that not everyone will manage to stay off tobacco during or after the contest. For some, it may be their first attempt at quitting, but even if they fail, says Warnick, it increases the likelihood that they will become nonsmokers in the following two-to-three years. "Quitting takes practice, there's no doubt about it," he says.

What To Do

You can check out the Quit and Win 2001 Web site, or visit the Tobacco Information and Prevention Source from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Find out about the health impact of tobacco from the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative.

SOURCES: Interviews with Todd A. Warnick, M.H.A, certified chemical dependency counselor, director, Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program, Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, Lexington, Ky., and Robin D. Holmes, program manager, Quit Smoking 2001 Contest, Toronto; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tobacco Information and Prevention Source Web sites
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