Bad habits: Local smoking trends higher than national benchmark

Information provided by the Thomas Jefferson Health District Information provided by the Thomas Jefferson Health District

“Take it one day at a time,” former smoker David Allard says about the best way to approach kicking a bad habit. “You just have to keep trying.”

Picking up his first cigarette at 15 years old, Allard, now 52, says he’s learned that quitting smoking is a different journey for everyone who’s ever tried to do it. But after a few failed attempts and four years of a nicotine-free lifestyle, he says anyone can.

Allard calls the course he took to eventually cease smoking a “roller coaster,” in which he first tried quitting “cold turkey” and was successful for 10 months. After relapsing, he tried hypnotism, and when he still found himself craving cigarettes—and smoking them—he decided to give group therapy a shot.

In 2012, he joined Quit Smoking Charlottesville, a class sponsored by the Virginia Department of Health’s Thomas Jefferson Health District, which covers Charlottesville and Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Louisa and Fluvanna counties.

Two months into classes, Allard says, “That’s when I finally stopped.”

But those at the health department say a number of locals aren’t as determined to quit smoking as Allard, which is why every area covered by the Thomas Jefferson Health District has a higher percentage of smokers than the national goal of 12 percent or less by 2020. Compared to the state average of 20 percent, 22 percent of the adults living in Charlottesville and 15 percent of those in Albemarle County identify as smokers, according to data from 2014.

In this case, a smoker is defined as someone who currently smokes every day or most days, and has smoked at least 100 cigarettes.

But perhaps the most striking local statistic for Kathryn Whitestone, a spokesperson for the local health district, is the number of women who have reported they smoked while pregnant.

“The effects of smoking are dangerous for babies, before and after birth,” Whitestone wrote in an essay in January. “When a pregnant woman smokes, toxic chemicals pass through the placenta and umbilical cord and enter into her baby’s bloodstream.”

From 2011 to 2013, 5.3 percent of mothers reported smoking during their pregnancies in the health district, compared with 8 percent statewide. But in Nelson County, that number was 14.5 percent, and it was 9.4 percent in Louisa. Coming in below the state average, 4.7 percent and 3.3 percent of pregnant women reported smoking in Charlottesville and Albemarle, respectively.

While data from 2012 shows that 60 percent of smokers living in America attempted to quit smoking that year, that number was nearly 95 percent in Charlottesville.

The Great American Smokeout, an event sponsored by the health department in which people are encouraged to stop smoking for the day, aims to help those within the district quit for good.

“If you can quit for the day, then you can quit for your life,” says Neely Dahl, the district’s tobacco control coordinator in charge of the event.

On November 17, from 7-9am and 11am-1pm at the Carver Recreation Center, representatives from the health district will be available to help smokers devise a quitting plan, give blood pressure checks, and develop self-care strategies and healthy snack ideas.

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