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Bill Blatt

We welcome Bill Blatt, Director of Tobacco Programs, American Lung Association . We talked with Bill on April 12, 2013.

ODC How did you first become involved with the American Lung Association? Have you ever used tobacco products?

BB I have worked in tobacco control for about 15 years – first at the state level then here at the national level. I started out in Arizona.

I have never used tobacco.

ODCHow long have you worked for the American Lung Association?

BB10 years

ODC What are your primary goals as director of tobacco controls?

BB I am the person at the National Headquarters who is most responsible for health education. We are responsible for health education activities including preventing kids and teens from starting to smoke and helping teen and adult smokers quit.

ODC The fact that even with all the information so readily available why do you think thousands of kids take their first puff every single day?>

BB There is no single factor. I definitely believe that tobacco industry marketing plays a role in getting kids to try smoking. They do this by framing it around the message that tobacco is an adult product. Of course, kids and teenagers want to be an adult more than anything else in the world.

In general kids may start to smoke trying to emulate folks they look up to. They want to look more mature. There is no denying that parents who smoke are far, far more likely to have children who smoke.

There is also the teenage concept of rebellion as well as the teen belief of indestructibility.

ODC Do you agree that the anti-tobacco message is strong and clear? As a parent, I guaranty you my kids know that smoking and tobacco are dangerous.

BB It is clear. The message about tobacco being unhealthy is out there. At the same time – with teens it doesn’t sink in. If they are not hearing it on a regular basis it doesn’t stick. Places where tobacco regulation and anti-smoking campaigns are strong there is less tobacco use.

ODC I know the American Lung Association has been fighting the battle against smoking tobacco cigarettes for many years, my question is – that with the passing of legalized marijuana in both Washington and Colorado, and the huge increase in marijuana use among teens, has your focused changed toward marijuana? Are you putting more resources in this direction?

BB Somewhat – we focus most of our resources on people smoking tobacco in the past because the overall burden to public health is so much greater.

But our position is clear – it is always unhealthy to light something on fire and inhale it.

Along with that there is the issue of second hand smoke. It is an issue we are facing more each day.

ODC What do you think is the key from keeping kids from taking their first puff?

BB What we found to be most effective – strong and constant messaging.

Another powerful tool is the tobacco marketing campaign itself. Getting teens to understand how they are being manipulated by advertising really helps. It makes them angry that they are being manipulated and they tend to get mad at the tobacco industry. That is a powerful force to keeping them from trying tobacco.

ODC In your opinion what are the keys to stopping smoking and tobacco use?

BB I have a few basic beliefs about tobacco cessation.

Number one, you need to be ready to quit. You can’t force someone to quit. It may work for a little bit, but if they are not ready they will not be successful in quitting.

Second, it takes most tobacco users multiple attempts to quit. This is all part of the process and is normal. They have to just keep trying.

There are many different types of evidence-based techniques for quitting. No one technique works for everyone. You had to learn how to smoke and you have to learn how to quit.

It is important to look at previous attempts to quit. What worked for you? What didn’t work? It is important to keep trying – eventually you will find the right combination.

ODC Alcoholics Anonymous has had great success helping people quit drinking and staying sober, are there social groups for smokers too?

BB There is Nicotine Anonymous, but it is a fairly rare group. Some cessation programs have set curriculum do aftercare group meetings that meet weekly or monthly to reinforce for their commitment to quit.

ODCHow important are role models for kids not to smoke?

BB Tremendously important. Using myself as an example- my dad was a smoker and he quit when I was 10. When I saw how hard it was for him to quit it made me never want to try it. He quit with “Freedom from Smoking” the program I now run.

Parents who don’t smoke need to reinforce why they don’t smoke constantly. Keep the message strong that it is dangerous and it is wrong.

For parents who quit, let you kids know how hard to was to quit.

For parents who smoke, I say just quit.

ODC Do biological and genetics play a role in addictive behavior?

BB We certainly feel there is a biological component. There are basically physical mental and social components with addiction. Physical is nicotine addiction itself. Mentally they may be addicted to the act of smoking. Others are social smokers and smoke for social reasons.

A successful plan to quit smoking addresses all three components.

ODCHow important is will power?

BB Very important – we don’t call it will power, but motivation to quit. It is not easy – current smokers who have tried to quit and failed get really discouraged. Again, quitting multiple times is normal. Do not stop trying. Try and think about the times your life was smoke-free.

ODC How do you feel about nicotine patches? Nicotine gum? Nasal spray? Drugs like Chantix?

BB We recommend that all smokers that are quitting consider using one of the seven FDA approved smoking cessation products. These include the five nicotine products – patches, gum, nasal spray, inhaler, and lozenges along with the two medications Chantix and Zyban.

ODC How effective are tobacco awareness classes? What percent of students taking these classes stop using tobacco products?

BB Tobacco cessation classes and programs are extremely important. Our online tobacco cessation program we see about a 30% success rate so we know we are helping people.

ODC Do you think mandating an 8-hour tobacco awareness class for all middle school and high school students would help keep kids from experimenting with tobacco products?

BB Speaking personally I would like to see that. Tobacco awareness is an important part of the health curriculum