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Fresh step

Published February 16. 2011 05:00PM

The non-smoking campaign in this country got a big boost last week when the first lady announced that President Obama had quit cigarettes. Other than the fact that Mrs. Obama said that the president had been smoke-free for about a year, details of his decision to kick the habit were sketchy.

One of our regular columnists, Dale McFeatters, even raised a question on where exactly the president could go to even take a smoke. The public rooms in the White House are smoke-free and it was stated that he did not smoke in front of the first lady or his girls in the family quarters.

Regardless, the fact that a high-profile personality - the leader of the free world no-less - is able to shut down his cigarette intake is a prime endorsement to go smokeless. There was no better time to make a public announcement about quitting than the time between New Year's - a day to set resolutions - and Valentine's Day, a time when the heart is a symbol of the day.

In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Health used Monday's heart theme to kick off its "Quit for Love" campaign. To help Pennsylvanians who want to kick the tobacco habit in the name of love, free nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT, is being offered for approximately six to eight weeks, or while supplies last. The kits are available through the state's Free Quitline (1-800-784-8669). Additional resources and information can also be found online at

Callers will get hooked up with a "quit coach" who will ask if they are ready to set a quit date and have any medical conditions that would rule out the safe use of nicotine patches. They can also enroll in a series of free counseling sessions.

Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Eli Avila points out that tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and disease and that nearly one of every five deaths nationwide is attributed to smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We know that most people will try to quit an average of five to eight times before they succeed," said Leslie Best, Health Promotion and Risk Reduction Bureau Director. "Counseling coupled with the NRT increases the chances of success."

The NRT kits are made available through funding from the federal stimulus program and the Master Settlement Agreement. Under it, 46 states, including our own, receive payments from the tobacco industry to offset smoking-related medical costs and to help reduce the use of tobacco products.

While the first lady's announcement about the president kicking the habit made the news last week, a report announced Monday warns us about a new health risk in high-energy drinks such as Red Bull.

Dr. Steven Lipshultz of the University of Miami's School of Medicine, co-authored a study that said some beverages claiming to boost energy levels contained three to five times as much caffeine as other eight-ounce fizzy drinks.

The study ominously claims that the high-caffeine energy drinks can cause strokes, seizures and even sudden death in some cases. Those with diabetes or behavioral disorders were at highest risk.

According to Lipshultz, the energy drinks have no therapeutic value, and many of the ingredients are under studied and unregulated. He warned that many young people don't realize what's in the drinks and that the combinations can have serious, and even deadly consequences.

By Jim Zbick

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