Free Florida tobacco help costs millions

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - If your New Year's resolution is to quit smoking, then keep reading. And if you're a nonsmoker, you should do the same and be concerned with how much money smokers are costing the state.

There is free help for people trying to kick the habit, all paid for by the forced hand of the tobacco industry.

Many have seen the ads and heard the branding that say, "Find three ways to quit at" It's all part of a multimillion dollar, multi-decade campaign to help Floridians stop smoking.

But it's more than just scare tactics and clever messaging. There's real help available.

Tobacco Free Florida offers classes on ditching the habit, a 24-hour hotline for quitters who feel their willpower fading. There are even nicotine patches available, all free of charge.

"They would get two weeks of nicotine replacement therapy, and it is free of charge," said Shannon Hughes, the bureau chief of Tobacco Free Florida.

The program is operated through the Florida Department of Health and funded by the 1997 tobacco settlement.

"We receive 15 percent of tobacco settlement funds," Hughes said.

This year the budget is $64 million, which is small compared to the toll smoking takes on Florida's economy.

According to the Department of Health, smoking costs $20 billion a year in lost productivity and early deaths. There's $1.2 billion in Medicaid expenses alone.

"Tobacco illness and death takes a tremendous toll on our state's economy and the health of people, and so it works in favor of all of us to decrease to reduce smoking as much as possible," Hughes said.

Smokers flood the Tobacco Free Florida website and hotline every January looking for help with their New Year's resolution. But statistics show for first time quitters, they'll fail between eight and 11 times before they finally kick the habit.

To get started with stopping smoking, visit or call the hotline at 1-877-U-CAN-NOW (822-6669). Since the program's inception, smoking is on the decline. Currently, about 20 percent, or one in five Floridians, is a smoker.

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