In the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute's recent County Health Rankings report, Williamson County was ranked as the healthiest county in Tennessee. A new release by the National Center for Health Statistics, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Williamson County also has the lowest percentage of smokers in a state in the middle of the tobacco belt.
At 15 percent, the county is sitting right on the national benchmark of adults choosing to light up while statewide 24 percent of Tennesseans still smoke.
"It's all about education," said Mandy Rogers, senior marketing director at Williamson Medical Center. "Williamson County spends a lot of resources educating the youth about healthy lifestyles."
"[Living healthy] is a way of life and part of the culture," she added.
Williamson Medical Center family practice physician Arthur Williams, D.O., who practices with Williamson Primary Care agreed.
"It makes sense," Williams said "We're first in education, first in financial resources and first in other health areas. In my opinion, schools have done a pretty good job getting people not to smoke."
But he admitted disappointment that 15 percent of the county's population is still smoking despite the educational push, however what really surprised Williams was the high ranking of other counties in the state. In Jefferson, Lauderdale and Monroe counties, 38 percent of the population age 18 and older smoke tobacco products.
While education is important, research shows in families where parents don't smoke, children won't smoke, he said.
"You can't make someone stop smoking," Williams said. "The more you badger, the more they did in their heels. It must be their decision."
The rising cost of cigarettes and health risks - cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, strokes and many other serious health problems linked to smoking have more people weighing the odds. According to some statistics, every cigarette knocks 11 minutes off a smoker's total lifespan. A pack of 20 cigarettes knocks off three hours. Hours can add up to days and years quickly for someone who smokes two to three packs a day.
After about 10 years of offering smoking cessation classes at Williamson Medical Center, Williams said he noticed smokers in the county were on a decline when the numbers of participants in the once filled classes began to decrease. The last two classes were canceled because of the lack of participants.
He also realized only five percent of his own patients are smokers.
"Smoking isn't as prevalent," he said. "Still it's 15 percent - I'm looking for zero percent."
The good news - it's almost never too late to quit smoking and there are plenty of programs, medications and therapies that can help smokers overcome the strong addiction to nicotine and the physical routines associated with smoking.
Williamson Medical Center's smoking cessation course
Quitting doesn't happen overnight, and some smokers may want to seek support. Williamson Medical Center's eight-week smoking cessation course beginning Tuesday July 5, supplies the assistance needed to kick the habit for good.
Based on the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program, the course covers the health affects of smoking, weight management, dealing with stress, nicotine replacement therapy and behavior modification.
Participants prepare to stop smoking and choose a quit date during the course. Not only do participants provide support for one another, but follow-up consultation is also provided for one year.
The course, taught by a certified nicotine intervention counselor, meets 6:30-8 p.m. each Tuesday at Williamson Medical Center. Cost is $75, but $50 is refunded if participants complete the course with perfect attendance. Register by calling 615-791-CARE or visit williamsonmedicalcenter.org.