SOURCE: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

June 15, 2009 13:30 ET

Unprecedented Effort to Help LA County Residents Quit Smoking Launched

Free Nicotine Patches and Gum Available at Ralphs Pharmacies, While Supplies Last, Starting June 15

LOS ANGELES, CA--(Marketwire - June 15, 2009) - The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, in conjunction with Ralphs Grocery Company and L.A. Care Health Plan, will participate in the largest in-person giveaway of nicotine patches and gum ever in California. These 30,000 quit smoking aids will be given away to LA County residents at 47 participating Ralphs Pharmacies beginning Monday, June 15, 2009 between the hours of 1pm-8pm, while supplies last.

"We are confident that this giveaway will serve as the first step in a successful quit effort for smokers in Los Angeles County," said Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director and Health Officer of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "Nicotine patches and gum are helpful tools that will assist smokers in quitting this deadly addiction. And, with no cost, there is no better opportunity and no better time than now to quit."

The 30,000 two-week starter kits of free nicotine patches and gum are part of LA County's ongoing campaign to reduce smoking rates. With funding from the county's allotment of the Tobacco Master Settlement and L.A. Care Health Plan, this campaign attempts to build awareness of existing resources and develop social networks to support smokers in quitting for good.

"Smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States. However, quitting cold turkey rarely works. Research has shown that counseling and the use of patches or pills can triple a smoker's chance of quitting," said Elaine Batchlor, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at L.A. Care Health Plan, America's largest public health plan. "We believe that by offering these free nicotine patches and gum, smokers will be encouraged to begin their path to a healthier life."

Nicotine patches and gum are a substitute to cigarettes to help smokers trying to quit by providing a steady stream of nicotine to the body that is decreased over time. This may help reduce the physical withdrawal symptoms that occur during the first weeks of quitting smoking.

In an effort to make the public aware of this campaign, LA County has created a Facebook page (keyword: LA Quits), which will include updates on this giveaway and other information about LA County's smoking cessation efforts. A Twitter page (@LAQuits) will also feature cessation tips.

Smokers who are interested in getting the free two-week starter kits of nicotine patches or gum are encouraged to visit their local Ralphs Pharmacy in LA County between the hours of 1pm-8pm beginning Monday, June 15th. "Ralphs and The Kroger Corporation are proud to be partners in this public health campaign. We are excited to be able to offer this resource to our customers at our pharmacies and hope that this will help them quit smoking, and benefit their health," said Kendra Doyel, Group Vice President, Public Relations of Ralphs.

LA County residents 18 years of age or older are eligible for this giveaway and must have a valid form of identification. Participants will be screened for eligibility to ensure that the nicotine replacement therapy will not conflict with any pre-existing conditions. A follow-up survey is required as well.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with more than 500,000 people dying of tobacco-related diseases each year. It also is a costly addiction, as purchasing a pack of cigarettes a day costs a smoker nearly $1,600 a year, and costs LA County approximately $4.3 billion due to smoking-related diseases and deaths each year. "During these tough economic times, it is a fiscally smart decision for individuals to quit smoking and save hundreds of dollars a year," continued Dr. Fielding. "Smoking not only puts a strain on your finances, it can also cut years off your life, which is the biggest expense of all."

LA County offers other resources to residents who are currently addicted to tobacco, have already quit, or want to help a friend or relative kick this deadly addiction as well. Residents can visit www.LAQuits.com for information and resources about quitting smoking, or call the California Smokers' Helpline, 1-800-NO-BUTTS. The helpline offers free and confidential telephone counseling that has proven to double a smoker's chances of successfully quitting than if the smoker tried to do it alone. The service also assists those trying to quit chewing tobacco and has experts to help teens quit. In addition, Ralphs Pharmacists are specially trained on smoking cessation behavioral techniques and offer individualized appointments to further increase the success rate.

For more information about this giveaway, please visit www.LAQuits.com. A link to a map of all 47 Ralphs Pharmacies in LA County is available on the homepage. LAQuits.com will be updated daily with information on the availability of the free nicotine patches and gum at the Ralphs Pharmacies. People without Internet access may contact Ralphs Customer Relations at (888) 437-3496 from 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. PST.

About the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

The Department of Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control, and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 4,000 employees and an annual budget exceeding $750 million. To learn more about Public Health and the work we do, please visit: http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.

About Ralphs

Ralphs, based in Los Angeles, was founded in 1873 and currently operates more than 260 supermarkets and 90 pharmacies in California. Ralphs is a division of The Kroger Co., (NYSE: KR), one of the nation's largest food retailers, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. For more information about Ralphs, visit www.ralphs.com.

About L.A. Care Health Plan

L.A. Care Health Plan (Local Initiative Health Authority of Los Angeles County) is a public entity and community-accountable health plan serving residents of Los Angeles County through a variety of programs including Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, L.A. Care's Healthy Kids, and L.A. Care's Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan. L.A. Care is a leader in developing new programs through innovative partnerships designed to provide health coverage to vulnerable populations and to support the safety net. With nearly 800,000 members, L.A. Care is the nation's largest public health plan and has been awarded an Excellent Accreditation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance. To learn more, visit L.A. Care Health Plan on the Web at www.lacare.org.