Crime & Justice

Quitting smoking legislation awaits Schwarzenegger's approval

Cigarette butts
Cigarette butts
Matthias Weinberger/Flickr (Creative Commons licensed)

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Nicotine patches and gum and addiction counseling could become routine expenses for medical providers, if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a bill into law. Here's more about how it’ll work.

It’ll resemble the way most people use their medical insurance to cover a physical exam or an X-ray. If the governor signs the bill, health plans throughout the state will be required to cover all quitting treatments for smokers.

“Rather than wait ‘til they get sick and have a lung removed," says Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. “Let’s try to avoid the treatment in the first place by avoiding the disease.”

He says the state will spend $45 million less a year on health services and chronic disease treatment for smokers.

L.A. County’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Jonathan Fielding says kicking the habit reduces the risk of heart disease by about half, "in just one year. So, this is a life-saving opportunity.”

But all this talk is just lip service to a smoker named Bo. "The chewing gums don’t do anything, not for me anyway. Being in a non-smoking environment didn’t do for me. I’m just a person addicted to smoking since I was 13. I’m 61 now."

He didn’t want to share his last name, but he says he’s tried to quit. "I tried both a combination of counseling and medication, but it didn’t work for me."

"It wasn’t the cost of using them that was discouraging," says Bo, "I’m just a smoker and I’m addicted to smoking."

The L.A. County Public Health Department calculates that one in four African-Americans, about one in three Latinos and about half of Korean men smoke.

If the governor signs the bill, it’ll become California law on January 1. National health care reform will also cover quit-smoking programs, but that won’t go into effect for another four years.