Williamson County program aims to help smokers quit

GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Cigarettes and the second hand smoke that comes with them are linked to cancer and respiratory disease. A free program extended through the end of the year can help smokers kick the habit.

Don Marlow and his wife have smoked for most of their life.

“Not that many. three or four a day, something like that,” Marlow said as he lit up in his car.

It may not seem like many to Marlow, but he knows those cigarettes add up. He’s tried to quit before, but continues to light up.

“It’s a drug and is very hard to quit once you’ve been smoking for as long as we have,” Marlow explained.

The percent of people who smoke in Williamson County is lower than the national average, but local health officials want the number even lower. A little more than 11 percent of Williamson County residents are smokers. Nationally, the number is up to 18 percent.

A free program offered county-wide, has been greeted with strong numbers of smokers looking to kick the habit. Grant funding has paid for smokers to meet one-on-one with a physician.

“They may need prescriptions, they may need referral to a support group or a class. We just do whatever we can to help them be successful,” said Clinical Preventative Services Director Marjie Riggio.

Improving health is the goal, but other factors are in play.

“They want to quit, primarily, the most we’ve seen has been for insurance reasons,” said Riggio.

Marlow said he’s on a program himself, and this time, hopes to finally be smoke-free

“We’ve tried before and back tracked a little on it and we want to get on it again and stay on it until we do quit,” said Marlow.

Williamson County first adopted a tobacco-free policy four years ago and the county continues to make updates. In February, county officials approved a ban on using electronic cigarettes on county property.

Officials said the devices are not F.D.A. approved and they could endanger employees’ health.

There are some steep consequences if employees smoke on county premises. The first two times it’s a written warning. The third time, the employee is suspended for five work days without pay or even fired.

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