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A hot line based at Roswell Park Cancer Institute has begun offering information on how to stop smoking -- part of a statewide initiative this year to reduce tobacco use among New Yorkers.

The toll-free New York State Smokers Quitline is designed to give smokers and others a confidential way to obtain information about the best methods for quitting, including facts about the nicotine patch and other products, as well as the locations of smoking cessation programs in their communities.

Doctors can call the hot line to obtain office materials to share with patients.

"The specialists who man the phones are trained to handle typical questions about what smoking cessation methods work and how they work," said K. Michael Cummings, director of the cancer center's Department of Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

"Many people think you take a pill or wear a patch and somehow magically stop smoking," he said. "The truth is the products work by taking the edge off the withdrawal symptoms. Success depends on your attitude."

Gov. George A. Pataki announced the hot line, which is funded by the state Health Department through a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The hot line coincides with a handful of other state initiatives, Pataki noted, including a a new $42 million program to reduce tobacco use, Medicaid coverage of prescription smoking cessation products, and a 55-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes, bringing the total tax to $1.11 per pack.

"New York is doing more than it ever has to aggressively get the message out that people should not smoke," Pataki said in a prepared statement.

The hot line -- (888) 609-6292 -- operates from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Off-hours callers are asked to leave a name, number and address on an answering machine.

Cummings said the hours may be expanded if the number of calls increases as word gets out about the toll-free number. The state plans to conduct an advertising campaign and to list the number in its tobacco-related literature.

Informational guides offered by the hot line are geared both to adults and teen-agers.

Non-smokers can find out about such issues as second-hand smoke.

Cummings said there are plans to offer a guide in Spanish, as well as one geared to pregnant women.

"We want to try to be an objective source of information, a clearinghouse where people can call if they want the latest scientific findings on tobacco products and all the smoking cessation methods out there. There's not much evidence to recommend some of them, such as acupuncture. Others are pure quackery," Cummings said.

About six states have similar hot lines as part of anti-tobacco campaigns.

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