Project to study ways to help the elderly quit smoking

WASHINGTON (AP) - Medicare is launching a pilot project in seven states to study the best way to help the elderly quit smoking.

The Medicare Stop Smoking Program will be conducted in Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The states were selected on a number of factors, including the large number of older smokers in the states.

The program will test smoking cessation strategies with seniors, including counseling in person or over the phone, nicotine patches, a prescription cessation drug and educational materials. The study will seek to determine which are the most effective for senior citizens.

"Smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease and death in the United States and poses a significant risk to older Americans," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday. "It is never too late to quit smoking, even if you have smoked heavily for 30 years or more. In fact, older adults have proven to be more successful at quitting smoking than younger people."

Beneficiaries who enroll in the study will receive free smoking cessation therapy, which may range from physician counseling to drugs to help them quit. Residents in those states who are 65 and older can call a toll free number, (866) 65-BEGIN, to find out if they are eligible for the study. The results of the study will be made available in 2005.

The announcement coincided with the Great American Smokeout Day, an annual event designed to encourage smokers to quit.

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