Tobacco use is a leading cause of death in South Dakota. But the new tax on those products is allowing the state to spend millions of dollars to help people kick the habit.
Sixty-six-year-old Clayton Hieb spends his days making deliveries for a flower shop in Rapid City. He says there was a point in time when nicotine controlled his life. And he can still remember when he took his first puff, decades ago.
“It made me physically ill, but you weren't allowed to show your friends you were sick and pretty soon I was hooked and hooked badly,” Hieb said.
Heib said the addiction quickly became overwhelming.
“I couldn't wait to get out of the doctor's office to have a cigarette. I couldn't wait to pull that patch off my arm to have a cigarette. I was hooked hard and I wanted to quit but I didn't know how to do it,” Hieb said.
It's the same problem thousands of South Dakotans struggle with who call the state's Quit Line.
“Use of tobacco is the leading cause of death for South Dakotans. Thousands of South Dakotans die because of tobacco use each year,” said Director of the South Dakota Department of Health Doneen Hollingsworth.
The Quit Line was established in 2002. Since then, more than 30,000 people have called the phone counseling service. Recently, a new push re-energized the state-wide effort to reduce tobacco use. Callers who commit to counseling can receive *free products to help them quit. In the past, callers only received a discount.
“We have $5 million for fiscal year 2007 and $5 million for fiscal year 2008 and we've to a lot to spend initially and we're going to be closely monitoring because we don't want to have to shut this off,” Hollingsworth said.
The line's success rate is now 25 percent.
“Because its so hard to quit, nicotine is a very powerful addiction because research shows most people don't successfully quit and a successful quit is 12 months with no tobacco use,” Hollingsworth said.
You may have seen public service announcements encouraging tobacco users to call the Quit Line on television recently. State money is also paying to put these ads on the air to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking.
“It’s not just the people using tobacco, it’s the effect of second hand smoke on all of us,” Hollingsworth said. “So we're going to be targeting risk groups like pregnant women, young adults and Native Americans to try and focus efforts on those people too."
For Clayton Hieb, it took more than a phone call or anti-smoking campaign to push him to quit. He's lost four family members to tobacco, and he worries there could soon be a fifth.
“I have another brother right now who is on full time oxygen, he has 40 percent lung capacity and we're going to lose him to smoker's emphysema if he doesn't get cancer first,” Hieb said.
That's part of the reason Hieb volunteers with the American Cancer Society. He's been smoke free for 10 years. Now he works to spread awareness about the programs available to help others quit.
“Even to this day, after 10 years, even if someone a long ways away is smoking and I just get a small of it, I think that smells so good,” Hieb said.
But he says he knows it’s a temptation that must be ignored, for his own health and everyone around him.
“If they can quit for one day, then they know they can do it for tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. Basically that is about it, it’s to prove to themselves they don't have to smoke,” Hieb said.
Tobacco users trying to stop using can call the SD Quit Line several times. Each time a counselor schedules a series of call back counseling sessions.
To reach the Quit Line, call 1-866-SD-QUITS.
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