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Web site available for smokers who want to quit
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The QuitPlan Web site was launched Monday, in an effort to help Minnesotans quit smoking. (Image courtesy of MPAAT)
A new Internet site is available for Minnesota smokers who are looking for some help in their quest to stop the habit. The site, which debuted Monday, is supported by the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco, the nonprofit organization created with money from the 1998 tobacco settlement. It features professional advice, message boards, a journal and custom cessation plans.

Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) - The site was launched partly in response to criticism from Attorney General Mike Hatch, who claimed MPAAT was not doing enough to help smokers quit. MPAAT also plans to start counseling programs for smokers in workplaces and treatment centers in November, said Andrea Mowery, the group's director of marketing and communications.

Supporters of the Web site say a similar online counseling service in New Jersey has been effective, though the success of it and other Internet smoking cessation programs has not been studied extensively.

"It seems to have results that are comparable to face-to-face counseling," said Jan Malcolm, chairwoman of the MPAAT board, referring to a survey that found that half of the users of a similar Internet counseling program stopped smoking for at least seven days.

MPAAT also has a telephone counseling service that has served 23,000 callers.

The site is designed to be a separate program, not a supplement to phone counseling, said Malcolm, a former state health commissioner. Free nicotine patches and gum, which are offered on the quit line, are not available from the Web site but can be purchased there.

"We think that people are most successful when they make a commitment to one program, so we encourage people to use one or the other, not both," she said.

Quitplan is a customized version of a fee-based Web service operated by QuitNet, a Boston-based company. QuitNet supplies the experts and technical support for the free Minnesota service. MPAAT said its budget for the first 18 months is $240,000.

One group of particular interest to MPAAT is college students, Malcolm said. "We're seeing really alarming increases in college-age smoking, and since the Internet is such a familiar medium to college kids, we hope they will take advantage of it," she said. The site has a forum for 18-to 24-year-olds.

Experts offered mixed opinions on the value of Web-based counseling.

Dr. Lawrence An, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and a smoking cessation expert, said the interactive nature of the Web allows a quit-smoking program to be tailored to the smoker.

"Generic information is not as effective," he said. "But if it can be tailored to fit the individual, it works much better."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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