An established countywide effort to eradicate tobacco use has received a seven-year state grant to help adults quit smoking Focus cigarettes and keep youths from starting the addictive habit. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has awarded $37,900 to the local tobacco awareness program for the current fiscal year, which started July 1 and runs through June 30, 2012.
The grant amounts for the remaining six fiscal years are subject to appropriation by the state Legislature, according to Tri-Town Health Department director James J. Wilusz.
The state has financially supported the tobacco awareness program since 1994, but Tri-Town has gradually received reduced funding the past several years. The current $37,900 award is down from the $53,000 for fiscal 2011 that ran out June 30.
Nevertheless, Wilusz vows the local program will boost its effort to ensure tobacco users have access to effective cessation programs.
“Seventy-seven percent of adults who smoke across the state want to quit and 66 percent have tried to quit,” he said.
Tri-Town, the primary public health agency for Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, has administered the anti-tobacco campaign for nearly 20 years. It also serves nine other communities: Dalton, Egremont, Great Barrington, Hancock, Monterey, Sandisfield, Otis, North Adams and Pittsfield.
tobacco products to minors. Since the mandatory program began four years ago, youth sales during compliance checks in the 12-community collaborative fell from 75 in 2007 to seven last year. Pittsfield saw a drop from 38 to two in the same period.
However, the program-wide and city figures spiked to 22 and 16 respectively this year, raising a red flag with Wilusz and Pittsfield Board of Health.
“We need to find out the root cause of this,” said board chairman Dr. Philip Adamo. “Is it because clerks are not being trained, and are retailers not as gung-ho about the training?”
Local health officials reported that of the 16 illegal sales to minors, seven were by uncertified clerks.
“We know there is still an issue with youth tobacco use, including teenage mothers,” Wilusz said.
The other goals of the tobacco awareness program over the next seven years include getting health professionals to motivate their patients to quit smoking; expanding the number of smoke-free environments beyond public buildings, the workplace and restaurants and working toward higher costs for tobacco products.
“Studies have shown for each 10 percent increase in price, we get a seven percent decrease in smoking,” Wilusz said.