Our Views: Research grant offers great news for Janesville residents hoping to kick tobacco

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July 18, 2014

Wisconsin's ban on indoor smoking in workplaces took effect four years ago this month and encouraged many people to kick the habit.

Nicotine use is a powerful addiction, however, and one in five Wisconsin adults still smokes. That's higher than the national average and exposes those who puff to bigger risks of cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses such as heart disease and asthma.

The National Cancer Institute brings hope, however. A $12 million grant from the institute will provide free help to smokers at clinics in Janesville, Milwaukee and Madison. The grant helps researchers zero in on the best ways to help smokers quit for good. As Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Karen Herzog explained in a story in Monday's Gazette, researchers know that a combination of medication and counseling works, but they're uncertain what mix is ideal and how best to systematically deliver treatment.

The UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, founded in 1992, will conduct the study. This is the largest grant it has ever received. Starting in 2015, the five-year project will provide medicine, counseling or both to more than 2,000 people at 20 clinics. Smokers can get treatment by visiting doctors for any reason at health care providers that include Dean Health System, MercyCare Health Plans, Aurora Health Care and UW Health.

The research center will contact patients within 24 hours after doctor visits. Using randomly selected free options, the center will provide some patients with nicotine patches or lozenges. Others will get one of these and counseling.

The project is dubbed BREATHE, or Breaking Addiction to Tobacco for Health. It will work with Epic Systems of Verona to modify electronic health record systems and help more patients quit.

Dr. Michael Fiore, BREATHE's co-leader, notes that the surgeon general believes it's never too late to quit. Doing so at any age provides benefits. He says recent surveys suggest 80 percent of adult smokers want to quit and regret starting. Each year, half try to quit without counseling or medicine but only 5 percent succeed. Surveys show between 15 percent and 20 percent of those who get counseling succeed. Those percentages surge when smokers get medicine and counseling. Researchers will, for the first time, study how to help those who quit but relapsed quit permanently.

Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, says tobacco kills more Americans annually than alcohol, suicide, homicide, AIDS and car accidents combined.

“It causes needless suffering and costs millions to treat,” Golden said in a news release. “Our health care systems desperately need more efficient, comprehensive ways to address tobacco addictions. This $12 million grant will definitely move us toward that goal.”

Each year, tobacco kills about 480,000 Americans, including 7,000 Wisconsinites. The grant announcement comes as organizers prepare for the annual American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Janesville on Aug. 1 and 2 at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds. Many victims suffer cancers without tobacco as an underlying cause. This grant, however, lifts hope that fewer local families will find loved ones fighting for their lives against cancer in the years to come.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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