ROCKINGHAM — The number of American adults who smoke decreased from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 16.8 percent in 2014, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet — yet tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, and Richmond County isn’t faring as well as surrounding counties in kicking the habit.
Every third Thursday in November, The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout event teams up with health agencies across the nation to promote the benefits of smoking cessation and establish a support network for people who plan to quit.
Public Health Educator Allison Campbell of the Richmond County Human Services Department Public Health Division said while smoking rates have declined in recent years overall, the county’s percentage of smokers remains higher than the state average.
“What I’m planning on doing is promoting this through Facebook,” Campbell said. “My goal since I was hired in August was to start up the Facebook page and really get that going. We’d like to get more people to like the page, so we can use it as a communication tool throughout the community.”
The North Carolina Quitline (www.quitlinenc.com) is one of several resources Campbell recommends.
“It’s 24/7,” she explained. “They also have a chat room that people can go to as well.”
QuitlineNC is a free, confidential service people can use online or with a toll-free phone call to 1-800-784-8669. There, quitters are matched with a “Quit Coach,” described on the organization’s website as “someone who has helped many people quit and knows how tough it can be.” The Quit Coach helps people to form a smoking cessation action plan and stick with it.
“Thursday is going to be the day where every health department, hopefully, in the country is going to be promoting smoking cessation,” Campbell said. “And my goal is to use social media to do that.”
According to Campbell, smoking in North Carolina is above the national average.
“Adults that smoke in North Carolina, it’s 19.1 percent,” she said. “The national average is 15 percent, so we have some more work to do in North Carolina, and especially in Richmond County. Our numbers are a little bit shocking.”
She added that Richmond County has the most smokers compared with Hoke, Montgomery and Moore counties, according to data acquired from a survey conducted by FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
“We have our 2020 Task Force with FirstHealth,” Campbell said. “And they put this presentation together.”
Asked why she thinks Richmond County’s smoking problem is greater than in the named surrounding counties, Campbell said there are a number of reasons.
“I think there are socioeconomic factors,” she explained. “In general, people who are more likely to smoke have less income, less education. And typically, males are more likely to smoke than females. In Richmond County we do have a larger female population. With our community health assessment and surveys we hope to figure it out. But people who are 18-to-25-years-old tend to be smoking more now than ever.”
Data from the state center for health statistics and another survey by FirstHealth, she said, shows Richmond County’s smoking rate is above the state average.
“Tobacco use 18 and over, and this is primarily in that 18-to-25-year-old age group, in Richmond County about 29.1 percent of people smoke,” Campbell said. “And in North Carolina it’s 20.3 percent.”
She said one of the most shocking statistics involved pregnant women who smoke.
“The number of mothers in Richmond County using tobacco during pregnancy is 23.8 percent,” Campbell said. “And that is one of the reasons why we are having a pregnancy fair coming up in December, to talk about some of these health issues and hopefully spread some knowledge and resources throughout the area to let women and men in the community know that we do have organizations that are here to help.”
Campbell emphasized the growing role of social media in connecting residents with health education programs in Richmond County, and urged people to seek information on Facebook.
“We’re going to be posting much more frequently on the health department Facebook page,” she said. “We’ll have resources, information that can help people throughout the community. I encourage people, if they have any question, to post it on the Facebook page and we can respond to them, or get them a phone number. Just don’t be afraid to reach out. You can just go onto Facebook and search ‘Richmond County Health Department.’ It is the verified page for the health department.”
To learn more about The Great American Smokeout and other health-related events, visit the Richmond County Health Department on Facebook.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.