Louisiana will help you drop the habit

The Smoking Cessation Trust may be the best kept secret in Louisiana. And its executive director, Mike Rogers, would like that to change.

The SCT, which has been in operation for a year and a half, provides free medical, counseling and telephone support services to some Louisiana smokers. What it doesn’t provide are funds to let people know the program exists.

“We have no advertising, and we can spend none of our dollars on advertising,” Rogers said. “So, the only way we can get out there is if a provider or somebody we’re working with — an insurance company, somebody with deep pockets — decides to publicize their participation with our program or our program in general. Then, you’ll see an ad here or there.”

The program arose from a class-action suit named Scott v. American Tobacco Co. that slogged its way through courts for 14 years until 2011. The judgment ordered tobacco companies to fund a 10-year program to benefit more than 200,000 eligible Louisiana smokers. After attorneys’ fees, the money totals about $180 million that smokers can use to help themselves kick the habit, Rogers said.

Not all smokers qualify. It applies only to Louisiana residents who began smoking before Sept. 1, 1988, because of a change in the Louisiana Civil Code that occurred on that date. Still, Rogers said, it can help a lot of people.

“It is a serious addiction, and it’s not an easy thing at all to quit,” he said. “All of us know people who put it down and never pick it up again. That’s not the norm, no matter how many of us think it is. It’s a very hard addiction to quit. Tobacco has done a very tremendous job of making the product more addictive through the years on purpose. That’s part of what the law in Louisiana found them guilty of was conspiring together to convince the public to buy a product they knew was detrimental to their health.”

So far, about 10,000 smokers have been approved for the services. Applications can be accessed online at SmokeFreeLa.org or by calling SCT Management Services at (504) 529-5665 or toll free, (855) 259-6346.

Those who qualify receive an ID card they will need when they visit a physician, join a group cessation program or to obtain stop-smoking products from local pharmacies. Products available to those in the program include nicotine gum, nicotine patches and other smoking cessation medicines.

The program pays for the medicines, some of which may require a prescription and be a treatment protocol approved by the U.S. Public Health Service, Rogers said. The program pays for all of it, including the doctor visits.

Such products and services might cost smokers $3,000 a year at retail rates, though SCT can do it for less because it negotiates deals with providers.

The program runs through 2022, and if any money remains, the tobacco companies could petition the court for its return.

“Our goal would be to legitimately spend the entire amount for the people it was set up for and help as many Louisiana people to stop smoking as we can possibly get hold of,” Rogers said. “There is not another opportunity for smokers that would pay for every bit of the treatment they desire. … You may have partial services. We cover your doctor visit. We cover your group counseling. We cover the pharmaceuticals. We cover that for as long as our program is in existence and you need it as a smoker.”