By Stephen Quigley
A recent state study shows that smoking among adults in Massachusetts is down to 13.7 percent. While the number of residents who smoke in Revere also shows a decrease, the number is still higher than the state average.
For Jonina Gorenstein, Susan Giarratani and Catherine Saes Moreira of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Living Tobacco-Free tobacco cessation and prevention program, these statistics show that there is still a lot of work to be done locally. Their work focuses not only on the longtime cigarette smokers, but also the increasing number of residents, especially among the youth who are turning to e-cigarettes, also known as vaping.
To help combat tobacco and the new vaping epidemic, Giarratani and Saes Moreira, trained tobacco cessation coaches, see people who want to stop smoking or vaping at MGH health centers in Revere, Chelsea, Charlestown and Everett. All MGH Living Tobacco-Free services are free.
“Smoking is more addictive than heroin,” Giarratani said in a recent interview. “Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. The more one smokes the more the need for dopamine is required,” she added.
Gorenstein pointed out that Massachusetts lawmakers recently approved a bill in 2019, which restricts the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes or vaping products as well as menthol cigarettes, to adult only smoking bars. It also levies a 75-percent excise tax on e-cigarettes. The bill made Massachusetts the first state to severely restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products, most of which anti-smoking advocates say are designed to appeal to children.
To these professionals, these flavored products like bubble gum, mango or grape were directed towards a new market — youth.
Given the reality of the huge increase in vaping among youth, MGH Living Tobacco-Free has increased its work with the schools.
The cessation program aiming at adults offers products like the nicotine patch and nicotine gum that can be purchased over the counter or there are also pharmaceutical options available.
“We are here to help,” Giarratani states. “We offer support and studies show that people are two-three times more likely to quit smoking if they combine support with quit smoking medication,” added Saes Moreira. The program length depends on the client, with meetings as needed.
Referrals to Living Tobacco Free average about 800 per year. Saes Moreira is fluent in Spanish and English, and interpreter services are available for other languages. The program offers free in-person, one-on-one coaching to all, as well as the option for follow-up coaching by phone. If people are simply thinking about quitting and want to find out more, they can make an appointment for a one-time consult. Gorenstein states other free community-based resources exist, such as texting programs through smokefree.gov and the Massachusetts Quitline (1-800 Quit-Now/1-800-8-Déjalo). MyLifeMyQuit.com and a texting program from the Truth Initiative are other sources of free support for people who specifically want to quit vaping.
The MGH team has partnered with Revere Cares in the middle schools to educate parents at parent-teacher nights and attends student health fairs. Since October 2019, they have worked with North Suffolk Mental Health and the MGH School Based Health Center to run educational sessions at Revere High School for students who are caught vaping. One fact highlighted with all youth is that since most children’s brains are not fully developed until the age of 25, vaping can harm the brain and body. In the last few months, news reports have highlighted deaths among teenagers of severe respiratory complications, some of which may be linked to vaping nicotine.
Gorenstein pointed out that many vaping pods have the same amount of nicotine as a pack of 20 cigarettes and that the younger youth start using nicotine, the more quickly they become addicted. Members of the MGH team will be at the March 5 Self-care Fair at Revere High School from 2:20 to 4 p.m.. MGH staff from the Health Chelsea Coalition will also provide information on vaping at Chelsea High School’s Self-care fair on Feb. 12, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Gorenstein will be train Revere school health and physical education teachers on vaping prevention and cessation resources on Feb. 26.
Whether you are young or old, the MGH Living Tobacco-Free team is there to help. Anyone is able to use all the services for free with no co-pays. For more information call the Living Tobacco Free line at 781-485-6210 or visit the clinic at 300 Ocean Avenue, Fifth Floor to make an appointment.
Giarratani pointed out that there is one client who is 84-years-old and wants to be tobacco free, saying, “You are never too old to quit.”
By Stephen Quigley