Patching up the problem

GLENDALE — Substance abuse counselor Joseph Martin has been dedicated for more than six months to kicking his 25-year-old smoking habit.

Martin, a Glendale resident, believed the only way to really reach out to his clients at Alta Met, a substance abuse clinic, was to quit something he also had trouble giving up.

“I wanted to start practicing what I preach,” he said.

Upon learning of the roughly 4,000 chemicals inside cigarettes, Martin said he was motivated to quit.

He was good about not smoking for about six months, but since June 29, Martin said he’s had about eight cigarettes.

And so Monday he went to the Ralphs Supermarket on the 1400 block of East Colorado Street to get a free two-week starter kit of nicotine gum.

“I was doing pretty good, but it looks like I needed this one step,” he said.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials gave away two-week starter nicotine patches and gum from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday inside the supermarket in an effort to get people to quit smoking.

Within an hour of the giveaway, officials had given out 20 kits.

Pharmacy student Naomi Parizi-Azad, who works for the supermarket chain, noticed several smokers had an urgency to quit.

“Half the people that come in really do want to quit, and half of them don’t,” she said.

Department officials and pharmacists, who work for the supermarket’s chain, sought smokers inside the store, urging them to take the free supplies.

Pharmacists consulted with smokers at the table, which was set up inside the store, and instructed them on how to use the patches and gums.

Working with the supermarket chain, county officials have been handing out free kits since June 15 throughout the region, said Linda Aragon, director of the department’s Tobacco Control and Prevention Program.

“We are identifying communities that might benefit from the [nicotine kit],” she said.

The cost of a nicotine kit is one of the reasons so few smokers use them, Aragon said. County officials came up with the idea of giving smokers free supplies, so they can save money for more kits.

So far, 9,000 kits have been dispersed. Aragon said they plan to give out 30,000.

Glendale, with a population of about 207,000, continues to have a higher-than-average proportion of adult smokers, with close to 20% lighting up on a regular basis, according to a Glendale Healthier Community Coalition survey conducted in 2008.

That rate is higher than the average 14.5% of adults in the San Fernando region who smoke, according to a 2007 report from the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Aragon said smoking is more common in the Armenian community. That was one of the reasons Glendale was chosen for the giveaway.

“But also, Glendale has been doing great work in their policy for outdoor areas and other tobacco control policies that they have implemented recently,” she said. “We just thought it would be a good place to do the outreach.”

Glendale resident Christopher Given, 25, began smoking when he was 9. He now smokes more than a pack a day, he said.

About two weeks ago, he left a rehabilitation center, where he said he was being treated for methamphetamine addiction. It was Given’s first attempt at cessation.

“I got kids, and it’s a lot of money,” he said.

Spending money on cigarettes has been hard to swallow, especially with seven children to care for, Given said.

The smell of smoke, Given said, has also been unbearable for his children.

“When I pick them up, they are like ‘You smoke too much,’” he said.

Pharmacist Chih-Wei Dai said the giveaway may be working for some smokers.

He has seen some smokers return to the Granada Hills supermarket that he works at to purchase more nicotine kits after getting them for free.

If the rising cost of cigarettes doesn’t motivate smokers to quit, Dai said the risk factors should.

“It increases your risks for heart attacks, stroke and any cardiovascular disease,” he said.

The risks and the increasing costs of cigarettes was enough for Martin to quit smoking.

Since he stopped smoking, Martin said his appetite is up and he feels healthy.

“I am 49 and I feel 25,” he said.

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