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June 23, 2008
By Jim McLean
KHI News Service
TOPEKA, June 23 Officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment have selected Candace Ayars to head the agency"s Tobacco Use Prevention Program.
Ayars, who holds a Ph.D. in community health services from the University of Texas, will direct state programs aimed at preventing Kansans from using tobacco and helping those who smoke or use smokeless tobacco to quit. She also will be in charge of evaluating the effectiveness of those programs, which include the Kansas Tobacco Quitline, a toll-free line staffed 24 hours a day by trained cessation counselors.
"A key feature of my job will be to ensure that the dollars being allocated to tobacco prevention are being spent effectively," Ayars said.
About 20 percent of Kansas adults smoke, according to KDHE"s 2007 tobacco use report. The rate among Kansas high school students is slightly higher at 21 percent.
"We still have a significant problem with youth," Ayars said. "They are still starting at very young ages."
Nearly 57 percent of young Kansans who smoke started before they were 18. Studies show that 73 percent of all smokers started to regularly use cigarettes at or before the age of 18.
If the current youth smoking rate continues, an estimated 54,000 young Kansans are projected to die from smoking.
Smokeless tobacco also is a health threat among Kansas youth, Ayars said. In 2007, 16 percent of Kansas high school males surveyed reported using smokeless tobacco, which contains 28 cancer-causing agents.
Each year, tobacco use causes more than 4,000 deaths in Kansas along with $930 million in health care costs, according to KDHE.
The Kansas Tobacco Use Prevention program is funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and money the state receives from settlement of a lawsuit filed in the 1990s by states against the nation"s largest tobacco companies. The program has a staff of 12, including eight outreach workers stationed across the state.
Prior to taking her new position with KDHE, Ayars was interim director of public health studies at the Kansas Health Institute.
-Jim McLean is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at email@example.com or 785-233-5443, ext. 110.