Norton’s Joe Samaco knows he has a problem but won’t stop trying to quit smoking.
”I’ve been fighting this battle for 55 years,” he said. ”I’ve quit numerous times. The longest time I quit was for 21/2 years. It seems like the older I get, the harder it is for me to quit.”
Samaco, 68, who has attended anti-smoking classes several times, said that when he was growing up in the Kenmore area, smoking was the thing to do.
”It was a rite of passage; everyone smoked,” he said.
He is not alone.
There’s a higher percentage of smokers in Summit County (28 percent) than in Ohio (23 percent) or nationwide (21 percent).
”Because of the higher rate of tobacco use, we need to educate people in our community about what resources are available to help prevent this chronic disease,” said community health educator and certified tobacco treatment specialist Jessie Wingert of the Barberton Health Department.
Summit County health departments have not stopped their efforts to keep the community healthy. They say they are still committed to helping smokers quit, despite losing their major funding source: the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation.
The foundation was dissolved and funds shut down last June.
Funding averaged $400,000 a year for such programs as prevention, adult smoking-cessation classes and nicotine replacement therapy.
The foundation also helped train some 30 tobacco prevention specialists throughout the state. Those specialists say cravings can be intense, and that it’s not easy to quit.
”Smoking is a disease of the brain; it isn’t just a matter of willpower,” said ex-smoker Elizabeth Burke, a tobacco specialist for the Akron Health Department. ”It’s not a simple matter of putting cigarettes down.”
The foundation was created in 2000, using payments from the state’s share of a multistate settlement with tobacco companies like Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.
When Ohio’s budget was financially strapped, funds were confiscated before they reached the foundation. The remaining $40 million was transferred to the state Department of Health to continue the foundation’s anti-smoking programs on a much smaller scale.
Anti-smoking programs continue on a minimal budget as health departments apply for every possible grant to keep the programs going.
The Summit County Tobacco Coalition was formed with the support of hospitals, school districts and such agencies as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, NEOUCOM and the PTA.
”We have a problem trying to get the word out about the programs that do exist,” Burke said. ”Before, we had the money for radio and newspaper ads. Now we depend on e-mail.”
The leftover money from the now-defunct foundation was available through grants.
”There were 80 applicants for 18 grants for the $40 million. The odds were against us,” Burke said. ”We didn’t get the grant, but we decided to keep the coalition going because smoking is a major health issue in our area. The local health departments — Akron, Barberton and Summit County — intend to work in unison and attack the problem head-on.”
Wingert said the anti-smoking classes the health department offers are free and are targeted toward adults. She said she prefers one-on-one meetings with youths, who may not feel comfortable in a crowd setting, where people talk aloud and share experiences.
”Most people who come to the classes really want to quit, mostly because they are concerned about their health or have been recently diagnosed with health problems.”
She wasn’t sure whether teens attend because they want to be there or face pressure at home to go.
”On average, it takes people 11 tries to quit,” Wingert said. ”Sometimes people quit for a few days, or a month, or can go for a couple of years without smoking, but then have a relapse.”
She said the success rate of the program is 53 percent.
The classes are five weeks for an hour and a half to two hours.
”We’re doing the best we can without [steady] funding, but we are all dedicated,” Wingert said. ”Our goal is a tobacco-free life for as many people as possible. We will just have to make adjustments depending on what funds we get, like cutting out the books we use, if we can no longer purchase them and coming up with our own.”
Samaco’s latest attempt to quit smoking started Wednesday. And as of today, he’s still on the wagon.
”I’m going to quit.”