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EDITORIAL: State's smoking cessation efforts are laudable

News-Sentinel - 7/24/2019

Jul. 24--More than 21 percent of adult sin Indiana smoke, ranking the state 45th among all states and the District of Columbia. California has the lowest percentage of adult smokers at 11.3 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tobacco users contribute nearly $3 billion to Indiana's annual health care costs. Use of tobacco in Indiana continues to be the single most preventable cause of death and disease. That's why News-Sentinel.com last month called for state and federal officials to attack the problem, which is particularly acute in Indiana. We were responding to the Legislature's failure to raise the minimum smoking age to 21 in the state.

Monday the state took steps in the right direction for tobacco prevention and cessation when the Indiana State Department of Health and Indiana Family and Social Services Administration acted on direction from Gov. Eric Holcomb to improve access to and affordability of tobacco cessation products for Hoosiers wanting to quit smoking or using tobacco. And the primary target in this initiative is expectant mothers.

According to the American Lung Association, Indiana, like the vast majority of states, is graded F in tobacco prevention and cessation funding. The grade indicates whether states are providing enough money to programs that prevent and reduce tobacco use. State tobacco prevention and cessation programs help stop children from starting to smoke and help tobacco users quit.

Monday State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., issued a standing order effective Aug. 1 that will allow Hoosiers to purchase tobacco cessation products at Indiana pharmacies without having to obtain an individual prescription. That will make Indiana just the 12th state with a policy or standing order allowing pharmacists to prescribe tobacco cessation products. According to Box, the new policy will eliminate financial and time barriers for individuals who may want to quit smoking.

"One of our main priorities is reducing the smoking rate of our expectant moms," Box said in a statement, "and we know they will respond positively. Studies show that women are more likely to quit smoking during pregnancy because they want to give their baby the best possible start in life."

Indiana has the seventh-highest infant mortality rate in the nation, and ranks third in the U.S. for maternal mortality. According to the Indiana FSSA, women who smoke are at least twice as likely to have a preterm birth, which is the leading cause of infant mortality in the state. Studies show smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth by almost 50 percent and neonatal death by more than 20 percent.

Meanwhile, in Monday's joint announcement Secretary of Indiana FSSA Jennifer Walthall, MD, said Indiana Medicaid will follow Gov. Holcomb's directive to reimburse health care providers offering tobacco cessation counseling for expectant mothers. She also announced that Indiana Medicaid will remove copayments for tobacco cessation products for pregnant women or members up to one year postpartum.

"According to statistics tracked by ISDH," Dr. Walthall said, "nearly 25 percent of expectant Indiana mothers on Medicaid smoke during pregnancy compared to approximately 8 percent of all expectant mothers nationwide."

The state agencies say training will continue for health care professionals to connect them with pregnant women seeking tobacco cessation counseling. We think these cessation and prevention initiatives are the right things to do to help smokers kick the habit and ensure expectant mothers have healthy babies. And we hope more such initiatives are yet to come.

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